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Tort/Negligence – STCA – Duty – DOT – Warning Signs – No Trigger Event

Tort/Negligence – STCA – Duty – DOT – Warning Signs – No Trigger Event

 Turner v. North Carolina Department of Transportation (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-07-0987, 19 pp.) (Wanda G. Bryant, J.) Appealed from the Industrial Commission. N.C. App.

Holding: Before the Department of Transportation places warning signs on a road, the DOT must conduct an engineering study; before the DOT conducts an engineering study, there must be a triggering event, such as a pattern of accidents or a single severe accident. Since there was no triggering event on SR 1422 before plaintiffs’ decedents drove past the end of the road, over a rock barrier and into Roanoke Rapids Lake, the DOT did not owe plaintiffs a duty to place warning signs on SR 1422.

We affirm the Industrial Commission’s ruling in favor of the DOT.

Plaintiffs contend that the DOT’s general duty to maintain the state’s roads in a safe condition is a trigger to conduct safety studies. The record evidence does not support this contention. While it is true that the general duty of the DOT is to maintain the roads in a safe condition, the standard of care by which the DOT acts to fulfill this duty is outlined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and the DOT’s policies. There is no evidence in the record that the DOT did not act in accordance with the MUTCD and their policies, as there is no evidence that the DOT was aware that an unsafe condition existed on SR 1422.

Plaintiffs’ reliance on Phillips v. N.C. Department of Transportation, 80 N.C. App. 135, 341 S.E.2d 339 (1986), is misplaced. Unlike in Phillips, plaintiffs here cannot show that DOT had notice of a dangerous or unsafe condition.  And, because neither the proximity of SR 1422 to the lake nor the dead-end were conditions requiring signs pursuant to the MUTCD or DOT’s policies, plaintiffs’ assertions must fail.

Citing Pittman v. N.C. Department of Transportation, 97 N.C. App. 658, 389 S.E.2d 275 (1990), plaintiffs argue that the proximity of SR 1422 to the lake was a dangerous condition and the dead-end was a hidden danger which required a warning sign. Plaintiffs’ reliance on Pittman is also misplaced. In Pittman, the DOT was found negligent for creating a dangerous condition, then failing to properly warn drivers of the danger. Here, plaintiffs assert that DOT was negligent for failing to act. However, there is no evidence to establish that proximity to the lake or the dead-end at the boat landing were dangerous conditions requiring warning signs.



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