By on February 3, 2011

The North Carolina Appeals on Monday exonerated the owners of the red light camera that killed a twenty-four-year-old. The heavy device had fallen onto the Ford Mustang in which Elizabeth May was a passenger on May 17, 2007. May’s family sued the city of Fayetteville, where the camera was located, and Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), the for-profit company that owns and operates the red light camera program.

The family argued that placing the camera in the median of the busy state highway 24 created a significant and avoidable danger because, had the red light camera not been there, May would still be alive. Prior to the accident, May had been doing shots at Secrets Cabaret with her friend, Danielle Polumbo. Polumbo and May got into the Mustang and at around 1am Polumbo misjudged the left-hand turn onto Sycamore Avenue and struck the pole. The red light camera tumbled onto and crushed the vehicle’s roof, taking May’s life.

Fayetteville’s attorneys argued that they were not responsible because the accident occurred on a state road. The three-judge appellate panel agreed.

“We affirm the trial court’s granting of the city’s summary judgment motion,” Chief Judge John C. Martin wrote in his decision. “First we note that the city owed plaintiffs no affirmative duty to keep N.C. 24 in a safe condition for plaintiffs’ decedent… Municipalities do not generally owe any duty to individuals injured on roads that are part of the state highway system.”

After an examination of the difference in contractual duties between the North Carolina Department of Transportation and Fayetteville, the court turned to the broader question of whether the city or the private contractor could be held liable given that May knew, or should have known, that she was putting herself in danger as passenger in a car with a driver who was obviously drunk.

“We hold, therefore, that, by voluntarily riding and continuing to ride with Ms. Polumbo under such circumstances and conditions as would have compelled an ordinarily prudent man in the exercise of ordinary care for his own safety to not ride with the ‘appreciably impaired’ Ms. Polumbo, Ms. May committed an act of contributory negligence which proximately contributed to her injuries and death as a matter of law, and which bars any recovery from ACS or the city for her death,” Judge Martin concluded.

As a result the ruling, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the city and ACS. A copy of the decision is available in a 65k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Kennedy v. Polumbo (Court of Appeals, State of North Carolina, 2/1/2011)


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14 Comments on “North Carolina Appeals Court Rules in Death Caused by Red Light Camera...”

  • avatar

    More accurate headline:
    Family Seeks Deep Pockets After Bad Judgement Darwins Daughter

  • avatar

    As much as I despise those Orwellian cameras, I have to ask myself "what would we think if it was a traffic light or a road sign?" I think the type of road device (even though it’s a despised type) is not relevant to the case.

  • avatar

    To be fair, TTAC is the only place I’ve found that is reporting on this web of corruption and dishonesty that is the traffic camera business. Tjhey are performing a valuable public service for an uneducated and naive populace.

    • 0 avatar

      Understood, but I don’t see the connection between what they’ve been reporting and this particular story, apart from the fact that it was a red light camera the drunk driver ran into. Could have  been a crosswalk sign or any number of things. The fact that it was a red light camera is somewhat irrelevant.

  • avatar

    Jimal, it’s an interesting story and it has to do with motoring. It’s fine for TTAC. Be thankful you aren’t being charged by the pixel.

    • 0 avatar

      I withdraw my “waste of pixels response. That being said, this story is being presented in the same way that the local news vilifies SUVs by running stories saying that “X number of people killed today when an SUV crashed…” as if the SUV were a cold-blooded murderer, when in fact the story has nothing to do with red light cameras or the discussion there of.

      Unlike the person who said in so many words that my comments are a waste of pixels, I’m not attacking the author of the article. I am questioning the relevance of this article to the greater discussion of the gouging of motorists by municipalities by the use of red light cameras.

      And yes, I do see the irony.

    • 0 avatar

      Jimal, you’re welcome to start your own site and see what it’s like trying to come up with content for your readers. It’s really hard to satisfy everyone with any one post, so you try to have a spectrum of topics and points of view.

    • 0 avatar

      Except that it’s a non-story. “Drunk driver strikes roadside equipment, kills passenger. City not responsible for state-owned equipment.”
      But that doesn’t offer the requisite salacious misleading headline.

    • 0 avatar

      Steve65 has given a capsule summary that isn’t inconsistent with the entry title. I don’t see it as a non-story. If the camera hadn’t been installed at the intersection, would the drunk have killed her friend by running into something else? Was the heavy device secured with enough of a margin of safety or was it installed defectively? If the driver hadn’t been drunk, but still had an accident and the revenue-generating equipment still fell on the car, would you feel any different? Suppose a cash strapped state or municipality leased that space for a suspended advertisement sign, and suppose it came down like the Sword of Damocles and killed someone? What’s your take on that?
      It’s bad enough to have essential equipment swinging in the breeze. Non-essential crap shouldn’t be added to the mix. These cameras fit that description.

  • avatar

    if it had been your wife or daughter or cousin coming home from a night shift at the local hospital ER and had skidded off a wet rainy road at 6am and been killed by this camera, would you feel different about the lawsuit?

    • 0 avatar

      When you have no case, move the target.
      How about hypothetical aliens? If hypothetical green aliens in a flying saucer ray gunned the car into the sky, is NORAD responsible for failing to intercept them before they entered earth’s atmosphere?

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