North Carolina Appeals Court Rules in Death Caused by Red Light Camera

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper
north carolina appeals court rules in death caused by red light camera

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.

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


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  • 50merc 50merc on Feb 03, 2011

    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.

    • See 3 previous
    • ChuckR ChuckR on Feb 03, 2011

      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.

  • LectroByte LectroByte on Feb 03, 2011

    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?

    • Steve65 Steve65 on Feb 04, 2011

      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?

  • Ajla From what I can see in the NHTSA data nontire part failures make up about .5% of reported crashes and aren't listed as a cause in the fatal accident reports. While we've all seen hoopties rolling around I'm guessing they don't go far or fast enough for many negative outcomes to occur from their operation.While I wouldn't want to be in that .5% I'd also want to avoid a "Bear Patrol" situation. When it comes to road safety nontire part failures are more like animal attacks while aggressive or impaired driving are heart disease and cancer.
  • Art Vandelay On the right spec truck, that is a screaming bargain for the price. And you can buy it safe knowing that as it is a Ford you'll never have your vehicle's good name sullied by seeing EBFlex and Tassos puffing each other's peters in one...a nice bonus to the horsepower!
  • Art Vandelay Too small for Tassos and EBFlex to puff each other's peters in.
  • Spookiness I can see revising requirements for newer vehicles, like 3 years, but not for older. I live in a state with safety inspections next to a state without, within a common metro-area commute "shed." Besides the fact that the non-inspection state has a lot of criminals to begin with, they're poorer, less educated, have a lot of paper-tag shady dealers, very lax law enforcement of any kind, and not much of a culture of car maintenance. It's all of their janky hoopties dead or burning on the side of the road every mile that farks up the commute for the rest of us. Having a car inspected just once a year is a minimal price of civilization, and at least is some basic defense against some of the brake-less, rusted-out heaps that show up on YouTubes "Just Rolled In."
  • Pippin Republicans Senators - "We refuse to support your nomination because you don't have a background in traffic safety! That's the priority!"Biden nominates someone with a background in traffic safetyRepublican Senators - "This new nominee is totally unacceptable! They're in favor of new regulations to improve traffic safety! We need big government out of (men's) lives!"