North Carolina Personal Injury:Negligence Decisions Differ by State, Court

It is sometimes difficult to determine what relief you are entitled to when you have been injured. Having an experienced North Carolina injury attorney who can thoroughly inform you of your rights is critical in obtaining the award you deserve in your North Carolina personal injury case.
This case illustrates the methods employed by the judicial system in this country to determine the applicability of statute to facts of individual cases. Chatman v. Strafford County came before the Supreme Court of New Hampshire because of the plaintiff’s appeal of the trial court’s decision in favor of Strafford County. The question here involves the interpretation of a state statute governing bodily injury actions against government units.

Statutes are written by the legislatures, either federal or state. Because the writers cannot foresee every possible case that will arise on the prominent issue in the statute, there are times where there may seem to be ambiguity regarding the main precepts of the statute. The Court in Chatman discussed this as they explained how they intended to interpret the statute at hand in the case.

The Court explains that to interpret a statute, the court observes the plain meaning of the words within the statute. Additionally, the intent of the legislature in passing the statute is taken into account as the court determines what types of protection were intended to be available through the statute, and to whom this protection was intended. Courts look to controlling case law where the statute has been interpreted in the past, to make sure that their interpretation is consistent with the legal precedent.

Chatman v. Strafford County is a case where the Plaintiff was involved in a work program being run by the Department of Corrections under the supervision of Paul Giampa. Upon instruction from Giampa, plaintiff was instructed to load tables and chairs onto a trailer that was not yet hitched to another vehicle. Giampa directed the Plaintiff in conjunction with others there, to lift the trailer and hitch it to the pickup truck. Because of the uneven ground and a failure in the trailer jack, the trailer fell onto Plaintiff’s left leg and ankle. Upon the trailer falling on the Plaintiff, she suffered irreparable injuries. Plaintiff sued Giampa for negligence and his employer Strafford County under the claim of respondeat superior.

Respondeat superior is often referred to as vicarious liability. This is an agency principal where the employer is held liable for the negligence of an employee who was acting within the scope of employment.

Defendant’s argued that the statute which allowed the lawsuit was not applicable because the plaintiff’s claims did not arise out of “the County’s ownership, occupation, maintenance or operation of a motor vehicle.” Plaintiff countered this argument by claiming that her injuries arose out of the County’s operation of the truck which was a motor vehicle. Further, the plaintiff argued that if the statute did not apply to the facts of her case then the statute should be found unconstitutional.

The main issue at hand is whether the vehicle could be considered as being “operated” under the applicable state statute. As observed in prior cases surrounding this statue, the court has found that operating a motor vehicle includes all of the acts performed in the movement of a motor vehicle from one place to another. Therefore, the plaintiff was left to explain the causal connection between the “operation” of the motor vehicle and the injuries she sustained.

This Court held that it is insufficient to only consider whether the trailer was hitched to a moving vehicle but that the entire range of activities for which the plaintiff was engaged must be considered in determining the application of the statute. Plaintiff was injured while the pickup truck was being operated because operations includes loading the trailer and the pickup were operated as a unit. The attempt to hitch the trailer to the truck is considered as enough evidence of the “operation” element. Therefore, this Court reversed the prior decision on behalf of Stafford County and remanded the case for further proceedings.

This decision explains how this Court adopted an opposite conclusion from that which the California courts reached. Because every state has different judges, statutes, and cases; the decisions are different.

If you have been injured contact North Carolina injury attorneys at Lee Law Offices to schedule a free appointment today. Call 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Chatman v. Strafford County, No. 2011-162 (N.H. S.Ct. Mar. 9, 2012).

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