WILLIAM EVERETT COPELAND IV and CATHERINE ASHLEY F. COPELAND, Co-Administrators of the ESTATE OF WILLIAM EVERETT COPELAND, Plaintiffs,
AMWARD HOMES OF N.C., INC., CRESCENT COMMUNITIES, LLC; and CRESCENT HILLSBOROUGH, LLC, Defendants.
in the Court of Appeals 12 February 2019.
by plaintiffs from order entered 7 May 2018 by Judge W.
Osmond Smith III in Orange County No. 17 CVS 162 Superior
Edwards Kirby, LLP, by David F. Kirby and William B.
Bystrynski, and Holt Sherlin LLP, by C. Mark Holt and David
L. Sherlin, for plaintiffs-appellants.
Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP, by Susan K. Burkhart and
F. Marshall Wall, for defendants-appellees.
Everett Copeland died after an overloaded dump truck rolled
away and struck him as he played near his home. The dump
truck was left unattended, with its engine running and
without wheel chocks, at a home construction site up a hill
from the Copeland's home.
case screams of negligence-by the dump truck driver, by the
company that operated the dump truck, perhaps even by the
general contractor responsible for supervising the operation.
This appeal involves none of those parties.
case concerns negligence claims against the real estate
developer who designed the planned community where the
accident occurred. The Copelands argue that the
developer-although it sold the lots to independent builders
to handle construction-retained a duty to develop a safety
plan, sequence the project to minimize harm from construction
accidents, and conduct inspections of builders' progress.
the Copelands' theories of legal duty are barred by
settled tort principles established by our Supreme Court. A
real estate developer, like anyone else, may hire a
contractor to perform a service such as building a home, and
has no duty to supervise that contractor's work.
Woodson v. Rowland, 329 N.C. 330, 350, 407 S.E.2d
222, 234 (1991). Similarly, a real estate developer, like
anyone else, has no duty to imagine all of the harms that
might be caused by other people's negligence and then to
take precautionary steps to avoid those harms. Chaffin v.
Brame, 233 N.C. 377, 380, 64 S.E.2d 276, 279 (1951).
as explained below, the Copelands have advanced a theory of
legal duty that survives summary judgment under these
principles. They have forecast evidence that this development
occurred on unusually steep, hilly terrain; that the
construction would involve heavy equipment and materials;
that there were foreseeable risks of roll-aways during
construction; and that a reasonably prudent developer would
take steps to sequence construction or grade the area in
advance to avoid foreseeable harm caused by these
construction accidents. There are genuine issues of material
fact on this theory of duty and we therefore reverse and
remand for further proceedings on this legal claim.
and Procedural History
following recitation of facts represents the Copelands'
version of events, viewed in the light most favorable to
them. As the non-movant at the summary judgment stage, this
Court must accept the Copelands' evidence as true.
See Dobson v. Harris, 352 N.C. 77, 83, 530 S.E.2d
829, 835 (2000).
2013, Defendants Crescent Communities, LLC and Crescent
Hillsborough, LLC, to which we refer collectively as
"Crescent," began developing a residential planned
community known as Forest Ridge. Crescent purchased more than
100 acres of steep, hilly land as the future site of the
recorded the necessary instruments to subdivide the site and
create applicable covenants and declarations typical of
planned communities. The company then sold lots to builders,
who constructed homes consistent ...