Justia North Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming an order of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of Insureds and against Insurer in reliance upon its prior decision in N.C. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Gurley, 139 N.C. App. 178 (2000), holding that the lower courts erred.Matthew Bronson, who was intoxicated, collided with a vehicle owned by Pamela Dana, resulting in serious injuries to Pamela and William Dana, who was riding in the passenger seat. Pamela died from her injuries. At the time of the accident, Pamela was insured under a policy of automobile liability insurance issued by Insurer. William, individually and as administrator of Pamela's estate, claimed to be entitled to an additional $74,750 in underinsured motorist coverage over the amount that Insurer had already tendered to them. Insurer filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the amount of underinsured motorist coverage it was required to provide to the Danas. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the Danas, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the application of Gurley in this case was error. View "N.C. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Dana" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the trial court to exercise personal jurisdiction over Defendant, Logan Wagner, in a proceeding initiated by Plaintiff, Marisa Mucha, who was seeking to obtain a domestic violence protection order, holding that Defendant did not have the requisite minimum contacts with North Carolina.The only contact Defendant had with North Carolina was more than two dozen phone calls he made to Plaintiff's cell phone on the day she moved to North Carolina. Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint and motion for a DVPO in District Court, Wake County. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and entered a DVPO. The Supreme Court dismissed the trial court's order, holding that the Due Process Clause forbade the trial court from exercising personal jurisdiction over him to enter a DVPO. View "Mucha v. Wagner" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court dismissing this complaint against Defendants in their individual capacities, holding that the complaint adequately stated claims for the tort relief sought by the Estate of Melvin Joseph Long.Long was working to reconnect a trailer-mounted chiller on the campus of North Carolina State University (NCSU) when a metal flange fatally hit him with great force. Long's Estate brought this action against NCSU employees who had worked on the chiller during the months before Long's accident. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted. The court of appeals reversed, holding (1) Defendants had been sued in their individual capacities and were therefore not entitled to the defense of sovereign immunity; and (2) the complaint adequately stated claims for negligence and gross negligence. View "Estate of Long v. Fowler" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the order and declaratory judgment of the superior court in favor of Defendant in this personal injury action, holding that, under the circumstances, Defendant was not entitled to collect underinsured benefits.Defendant was a North Carolina resident who sought to collect underinsured motor vehicle coverage benefits from Plaintiff, her North Carolina insurer, after she was injured while traveling in Alabama in a car owned and operated by a Tennessee resident and insured by a Tennessee insurer. Plaintiff denied the claim and initiated a declaratory judgment action seeking a ruling establishing that the UIM coverage of its politics did not apply to Defendant's injuries. The trial court concluded that Defendant was not entitled to coverage under the UIM provision of her insurance contract. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the amount of the stacked UIM coverage limits exceeded the sum of the applicable bodily injury coverage limits, the Tennessee driver's car was an "underinsured motor vehicle" as defined under North Carolina's Financial Responsibility Act for the purposes of giving effect to Defendant's contract with Plaintiff. View "N.C. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Lunsford" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Business Court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants, holding that the Business Court properly determined that North Carolina's economic loss rule requires negligence claims to be based upon the violation of an extra-contractual duty imposed by operation of law.At issue was whether a commercial property owner who contracts for the construction of a building may seek to recover in tort for its economic loss from a subcontracted manufacturer of building materials with whom the property owner does not have contractual privity. Applying the economic loss rule irrespective of the existence or lack of a contractual relationship between the property owner and the subcontracted manufacturer, the court dismissed Plaintiff's negligence claim with prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that purely economic losses are not recoverable under tort law, particularly in the context of commercial transactions. View "Crescent University City Venture, LLC v. Trussway Manufacturing, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court reversing the trial court's order granting judgment on the pleadings regarding Plaintiffs' claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, holding that the court of appeals did not err.Plaintiffs filed a complaint including claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death after their two-year-old child was accidentally killed by a shotgun at Defendants' home. The trial court granted Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, dismissing all of Plaintiffs' claims. The court of appeals reversed in part, holding that Plaintiffs' allegations regarding foreseeability were sufficient to support a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs' allegations were sufficient to support their claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress against Defendants. View "Newman v. Stepp" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
by
The Supreme Court modified and affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals holding that Plaintiff failed properly to plead administrative negligence under N.C. Gen. Stat. 90-21.11(2)(b), holding that the trial court did not err by denying Defendant's motion for a directed verdict on pain and suffering damages.Plaintiff failed a complaint for medical negligence against Defendant, and the case proceeded to trial. At the close of Plaintiff's evidence, Defendant moved for a directed verdict. The trial court denied the motion. The jury returned verdicts finding that the decedent's death was caused by Defendant's negligence and negligent performance of administrative duties. The court of appeals reversed in part, vacated in part, and granting a new trial in part, holding (1) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's award for pain and suffering, and (2) Plaintiff did not sufficiently plead administrative negligence. The Supreme Court held (1) the trial court properly denied Defendant's motion for a directed verdict on pain and suffering damages; (2) Plaintiff was not required to plead a claim for administrative negligence separate from medical negligence; (3) Defendant was not entitled to a new trial; and (4) the trial court did not err by granting Plaintiff's motion for a directed verdict on contributory negligence. View "Estate of Savino v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment finding Defendants liable for defamation and awarding Plaintiff compensatory and punitive damages, holding that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury that it was required to find one of the statutory aggravating factors before awarding punitive damages pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 1D-15(a).Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to support a finding of actual malice by clear and convincing evidence; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendants' motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict; (3) the trial court did not err in instructing the jury on the issue of falsity; but (4) the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury that it was required to find one of the statutory aggravating factors before awarding punitive damages. View "Desmond v. News & Observer Publishing Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
by
The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' decision affirming the North Carolina Industrial Commission's finding that the uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) proceeds that Plaintiff received on behalf of her husband's estate through the settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit were subject to Defendants' subrogation lien under N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-10.2, holding that the UIM proceeds recovered from the wrongful death lawsuit may not be used to satisfy Defendants' workers' compensation lien.The decedent, Plaintiff's husband and an employee of Employer, was involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident with a third party in South Carolina. The Commission ordered Defendants to pay workers' compensation benefits to Plaintiff. Plaintiff then filed a wrongful death case seeking damages from the third party driver. The parties reached a settlement agreement that included recovery in the form of UIM proceeds. The workers' compensation insurance carrier for Employer subsequently claimed a lien on the UIM proceeds that Plaintiff recovered from the wrongful death settlement. The Commission ordered the distribution of Plaintiff's entire recovery from the South Carolina wrongful death settlement, concluding that Defendants were entitled to subrogation under section 97-10.2. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendants may not satisfy their workers' compensation lien by collecting from Plaintiff's recovery of UIM proceeds in her South Carolina wrongful death settlement. View "Walker v. K&W Cafeterias" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals vacating the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant in this negligence action, holding that because the alleged defect was open and obvious and thus should have been evident to Plaintiff and because Plaintiff did not take reasonable care, summary judgment was properly granted.Plaintiff visited Defendant's church property for a funeral and helped carry the casket. Plaintiff tripped near the top of the stairs and was injured. The top step was visibly higher than the other steps and made of noticeably different materials. The trial court found that Defendant was entitled to summary judgment. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that genuine issues of material fact existed regarding whether the condition of the top step was open and obvious, whether the top step caused Plaintiff's fall, and whether Plaintiff was contributorily negligent. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the top step was an open and obvious condition such that a reasonably prudent person would have recognized it and taken appropriate care to avoid injury while using it; and (2) Plaintiff did not take the care that an ordinary person would have taken while carrying the casket up the set of stairs and so was contributorily negligent. View "Draughon v. Evening Star Holiness Church of Dunn" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury