Page v. Tao
56 N.C. App. 488
Court of Appeals of North Carolina
This case arose out of an automobile accident allegedly caused by the defendant’s negligence in operating his vehicle at too slow of a speed on a public highway. The plaintiff Barbara Burnett Page (Page) suffered injuries as a result of the accident.
At trial, the jury awarded plaintiff damages for the injuries she received as a result of the defendant’s negligence in operating his vehicle too slowly on a public highway. Following this verdict, the defendant, William Wenting Tao (Tao), moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and the trial court granted that motion. It is from that motion, which set aside the judgment and entered judgment for the defendant, upon which the Plaintiff appealed.
The evidence at trial tended to show that there was a line of five vehicles traveling in the right-hand lane on I-85 south towards Greensboro, North Carolina. The order of the vehicles was as follows: defendant’s Toyota, a tractor-trailer driven by Preston Hood (Hood), plaintiff’s Ford Pinto, a tractor-trailer driven by William Baucom (Baucom), and a tractor-trailer driven by Ronald Staton (Staton). At the time of the accident, the defendant’s vehicle was traveling around six to eight miles an hour while the other four vehicles were traveling around fifty-five miles an hour.
Hood was first to notice the extremely slow speed of the defendant’s vehicle as the line of traffic approached. Hood “whipped” his truck into the left hand lane to avoid running into the back of the defendant’s vehicle. At this time, plaintiff attempted to signal to change lanes, however, the truck driven by Baucom was already on her left in the passing lane. It was at this time that the Plaintiff first saw the defendant’s Toyota, which appeared to be stopped in the right-hand lane; the same lane in which she was traveling. With the tractor-trailer to her left, plaintiff could not move over, and was forced to slam on her brakes. Plaintiff’s vehicle then began to skid, when she was struck by two vehicles: first the Baucom truck which was on her left, and then by Staton’s tractor-trailer which was behind her.
As a result of the impact, Plaintiff was thrown from her vehicle, slid across the pavement, and suffered severe injuries. The Toyota driven by the defendant continued slowly down the road until Hood chased it on foot, and told the defendant to wait until the police showed up. However, once Hood returned to the accident scene, the Toyota driven by defendant had left the area.
North Carolina case law has indicated that, “a motorist must exercise proper care in the way and manner in which he operates his vehicle, proper care being that degree of care which an ordinarily prudent person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances.” Boykin v. Bissette, 260 N.C. 295, 299 (1963). There are also statutorily imposed duties upon drivers on North Carolina roads. The one applicable in this case is N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-141(h), which provides that “no person shall operate a motor vehicle on the highway at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law…” Such a violation of the standard of care provided by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-141(h) has been held to be negligence per se. Bridges v. Jackson, 255 N.C. 333, 335 (1961).
The governing law concerning defendant’s conduct in leaving the scene of the accident is also relevant to the determination of his alleged negligence. According to case law, “evidence that a defendant failed to stop his automobile after having been involved in a collision is some evidence of negligence.” Edwards v. Cross, 233 N.C. 354, 356 (1951).
The defendant told the investigating highway patrolman that he was experiencing mechanical problems with the vehicle, specifically the transmission, and that he was traveling at around thirty to forty miles an hour. However, the eyewitness testimony presented by the plaintiff tended to show that the defendant was only traveling, at most, around five to ten miles an hour, without any hand signals, emergency flashers, and no warning of any kind to other traffic. The defendant’s decision to leave the scene was also taken into consideration by the Court of Appeals.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The Court of Appeals found that there was error in setting aside the plaintiff’s jury verdict, because there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that the defendant was negligently operating his motor vehicle at “such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic.” Thus, the defendant’s continued operation of his vehicle, which was experiencing mechanical issues, was the proximate cause of the accident, and as a result the plaintiff was entitled to recovery.