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Important Court of Appeals Decision

A potentially groundbreaking decision from the North Carolina Court of Appeals is worth monitoring for all involved in the construction industry. The case of William Everett Copeland IV and Catherine Ashley F. Copeland v. Amward Homes of NC, Inc., Crescent Communities, LLC and Crescent Hillsborough, LLC, COA18-1021 (Jan. 7, 2020) was heard by the NC Court of Appeals and remanded for further proceedings, as the Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment in favor of the Defendants.

This case involved a 5-year old child being fatally struck by an overloaded dump truck near his home. The parents of the child brought negligence claims, yet most were barred by well-settled principles of law. However, the parents prevailed on one interesting theory of negligence, in which they asserted that “developers of large projects on hilly terrain have a duty to sequence and manage construction to limit the risk that bystanders downhill might be harmed by foreseeable roll-away accidents.”

All eyes now turn to the trial court in order to see if the Plaintiffs can prevail on their claim regarding a duty to sequence construction or conduct mass grading. If the Plaintiffs succeed, the implication for developers will be massive, as they will be required to micromanage a development of hilly terrain to ensure construction starts at the top and works down in order to prevent this type of incident from occurring. Thus, this is a decision worth tracking as it works back through the trial court.

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