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Goins v. Time Warner Cable Southeast, LLC

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

March 6, 2018

DONNIE L. GOINS and JACKIE KNAPP, Plaintiffs,
v.
TIME WARNER CABLE SOUTHEAST, LLC, and WAKE ELECTRIC MEMBERSHIP CORPORATION d/b/a WAKE ELECTRIC, Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 16 October 2017.

         Appeal by Defendant from judgment entered 8 August 2016 and order entered 30 September 2016 by Judge Elaine M. O'Neal in Wake County Superior Court No. 14 CVS 15229.

          Martin & Jones, P.L.L.C., by H. Forest Horne and Huntington M. Willis, for the Plaintiffs-Appellees.

          Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo, LLP, by Thomas M. Buckley and Joshua D. Neighbors, for the Defendant-Appellant.

          DILLON, JUDGE

         Donnie L. Goins and Jackie Knapp (together, "Plaintiffs") brought this action seeking damages sustained when they each (at different times) collided with a utility line owned by Time Warner Cable Southeast, LLC, ("Defendant") that was lying at ground level in a public roadway. The jury found that Defendant was negligent and that neither Plaintiff was contributorily negligent. Defendant appeals from the trial court's judgment entered based on the jury's verdict and from the trial court's subsequent denial of its Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict ("JNOV"). We agree with Defendant that, based on our jurisprudence, the trial court committed reversible error by instructing the jury on the sudden emergency doctrine, an instruction which provided a theory by which the jury could determine that neither Plaintiff was contributorily negligent. Specifically, there was no evidence to support the instruction. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment entered by the trial court and remand the matter for a new trial.

         I. Background

         The evidence presented at trial tended to show the following:

         On 11 January 2014, severe weather caused a utility line belonging to Defendant to fall from its poles. That same day, Defendant was notified of the fallen line.

         The following morning, Donnie Goins ("Plaintiff Goins") was cycling and was severely injured when his front tire made impact with the line, which was still lying in the roadway. A short time later, Jackie Knapp ("Plaintiff Knapp") was cycling when a cyclist directly in front of her struck the wire and wrecked. Plaintiff Knapp was unable to stop before colliding with him, resulting in a pile-up and causing Plaintiff Knapp to sustain severe injuries.

         A jury ultimately found Defendant responsible for both Plaintiffs' injuries, and the trial court entered judgment on the verdict and denied Defendant's subsequent motion for JNOV. Defendant now appeals.

         II. Analysis

         Defendant contends that the trial court erred in two respects. First, Defendant argues that the trial court should never have allowed the issue of Plaintiff Knapp's contributory negligence to reach the jury, contending that Plaintiff Knapp was contributorily negligent as a matter of law. Second, Defendant argues that a jury instruction regarding ...


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