NC Court of Appeals Proves Once Again — Being A Landowner Doesn’t Always Mean Having To Say You’re Sorry…

In a tough case involving crippling injuries to a Charlotte worker, the North Carolina Court of Appeals just last month handed down a case that once again proves that just because someone who is injured on your property — even someone who has been invited there — does not mean that you are legally liable to pay the resulting damages. Burnham v. S&L Sawmill, Inc, et al. NC Ct of Appls Case # COA12-1581

Judge Sam J. "Jimmy" Ervin IV

Judge Sam J. “Jimmy” Ervin IV – wrote the opinion upholding a dismissal of a trucker’s case against a landowner.

Nicholas Burnham worked as a dump truck driver for McGee Brothers Company in 2008, when he made a trip to the sawmill operated by S & L Sawmill, Inc. Once there, his task was to drive on to a scale to weigh the load, untie the binding straps which secured the load,, unload the logs and receive payment for the delivery before leaving. Although he had done this on numerous occasions previously, parking his truck in the same spot without incident, on April 3, 2008 his truck “was ‘fairly’ although not completely, level” with the truck leaning to the side slightly. As he engaged in the unloading process, a binding strap “snapped out” towards the place where he was standing, and a falling log rolled off and struck him, crippling him. He is now permanently confined to a wheelchair.

This case argued by three attorneys I know very well and for whom I have great respect, and the appellate decision was written by a Davidson classmate of mine, the Honorable Sam J. (“Jimmy”) Ervin IV. (Bribe me with enough wine, and I’ll tell you some not so “honorable” stories…heh, heh.)

In essence, Judge Ervin upheld the ruling by the trial judge (Yvonne Mims Evans is another jurist I know well, and for whom I have great respect) by explaining that the Plaintiff simply had not shown exactly what duty the Defendants had breached toward Mr. Burnham.

This opinion is a good “teaching” case, in that it quotes extensively from basic case law to more fully define and explain a landowner’s responsibilities. Judge Ervin quoted the seminal case of Nelson v. Freeland, 149 NC 615 (1998), as well as some others, as he tried to convey the delicate balance needed to hold landowners responsible for taking reasonable precautions for safety, but not making them liable for every injury that happens to occur on their property:

The ultimate issue…..

Having thus explained the law, Judge Ervin applied it in this case: “After carefully reviewing the record, we have been unable to find any record evidence tending to show that Defendants either created the condition which caused Plaintiff’s injury or failed to correct such a condition after notice of its existence.” And so the landowner wins, and the injured plaintiff doesn’t even get to a trial.

One final note: The next time you hear at some cocktail party some blowhard spouting off about how “everyone’s getting rich off of the legal system,” remind them that it’s just not so. I have no doubt the Plaintiff’s attorneys invested thousands of dollars on their own money to help their client and don’t have a dime to show for it. And neither the Defendant, nor its insurance company, didn’t have to pay a dime to a person horribly injured on its property.

Justice is a process, not necessarily any one result. We would all be wise to let the process work, and not muck it up any further through misguided “tort reform.”

About Mike Daisley - Civil Litigation Attorney, Mediator, Writer, Licensed Lay Preacher (Episcopal Church, Diocese of North Carolina)

Mike Daisley is a civil litigation attorney and Certified Mediator in Charlotte, North Carolina, and owner and president of "DaisleyLegal" a virtual law firm focused on helping victims of drunk driving injuries and other careless individuals and corporations. He devotes a significant time of his practice as a mediator in North Carolina's Superior Courts, using his 35 years of litigation experience to counsel and assist opposing parties to resolve their disputes and lawsuits cooperatively, avoiding the high expenses and time commitments involved in going to trial. In addition to his commitment to Civil Trial Advocacy and Alternative Dispute Resolution, Mike is also an avid writer, and has a wide array of interests outside of his legal practice, including stints as a columnist for The Charlotte Observer, political analyst for WCNC-TV and WBT Radio. Mike’s biggest passion outside the law is learning and writing about theology, and especially the role doubt plays in faith, the role faith plays (or should play) in politics, and (as he puts it) the “beauty and deep mystery” of the liturgy. Mike is a lifelong Episcopalian, and often jokes that means "I am a raging agnostic at least two or three days a week.” In 2019, he was appointed by the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina as a licensed Lay Preacher in the Episcopal Church. (A sample of Mike’s preaching can be heard here: To discuss the possibility of teaching, lecture, sermon or interview requests (or to make any comments or suggestions about the “WithGladness” blog) you may contact Mike at any Office email : Personal email: Office voicemail: (704) 554-2306 Mike Daisley & Associates, LLC 1515 Mockingbird Lane, Suite 400 Charlotte, North Carolina 28209
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1 Response to NC Court of Appeals Proves Once Again — Being A Landowner Doesn’t Always Mean Having To Say You’re Sorry…

  1. Pingback: Judicial Elections 2014…and other scary ghost stories! | from DaisleyLaw, PLLC

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