Campbell v. City of High Point

Decision Date03 July 2001
Docket NumberNo. COA00-882.,COA00-882.
Citation551 S.E.2d 443,144 NC App. 493
CourtNorth Carolina Court of Appeals
PartiesHarland Dean CAMPBELL, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF HIGH POINT, Defendant.

Skager Law Firm, by Philip R. Skager, High Point, for plaintiff.

Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice PLLC, by Gusti W. Frankel and Alison R. Bost, Winston-Salem, for defendant.

TYSON, Judge.

Harland Dean Campbell ("plaintiff") appeals the trial court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the City of High Point ("defendant"). We affirm the trial court's grant of summary judgment.


Plaintiff was employed as an installer technician for Cablevision of High Point ("Cablevision") on 16 October 1995. Plaintiff was working that day to disconnect cable television service at a residence at 1701 County Club Road in High Point, North Carolina. The residence was owned by private individuals, and was used for rental purposes. No one had occupied the residence since 2 October 1995. The owners did not disconnect the electrical power following the tenants' departure.

Plaintiff positioned a fiberglass ladder against a wire support strand attached to a telephone pole in order to disconnect cable service at the residence. Plaintiff then ascended the ladder and began to disconnect the service. As plaintiff began to disconnect the service, he felt an electrical current travel through his body. Plaintiff jumped off of the ladder to escape the current, and sustained leg and foot injuries in his fall to the ground.

Plaintiff testified that he inspected the area where he was about to work and did not see anything unusual prior to ascending the ladder. Plaintiff further testified that he did not see any broken or bare electrical wires prior to his attempt to disconnect the cable service. Plaintiff was not wearing a safety belt, insulated safety gloves, or a fall-arrest system at the time of his injury.

On 15 October 1998, plaintiff filed the present negligence action against defendant, and the individual owners of 1701 Country Club Road. Plaintiff subsequently filed a voluntary dismissal with prejudice as to the individual owners on 25 May 1999. Plaintiff proceeded against defendant, alleging that the electrical shock which caused his fall resulted from a broken or bare electrical wire owned, operated, and negligently maintained by defendant. Plaintiff alleged that a tree branch located on the property of the residence had grown around the electrical wires, causing the wires' insulation to break.

Defendant answered on 19 November 1998, denying any negligence, and alleging, in the alternative, the joint and concurrent negligence of Cablevision. Defendant presented evidence that city employees trimmed the trees at 1701 Country Club Road less than two months prior to plaintiff's accident. Lloyd D. Shank, Jr. ("Shank"), Director of Electric Utilities for defendant, testified that defendant "regularly trims trees around electrical wires," and that defendant, through its contractor, "trimmed the trees in the Country Club Road area, including 1701 Country Club, on August 25 through 28, 1995." Shank further testified that plaintiff's accident "was the first notice to [defendant] of any problems with the electricity or the electrical wires at 1701 Country Club."

Defendant moved for summary judgment on 9 March 2000. Plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment on 24 March 2000. The trial court granted defendant's motion on 4 April 2000. Plaintiff appeals.

The sole issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of defendant. Plaintiff concedes that defendant initially insulated the wire which plaintiff alleges was defective. Plaintiff asserts that defendant breached a duty of care by "allowing the [tree] limb to grow around or otherwise damage the electrical wire." Plaintiff argues that he has presented evidence of each element of a negligence action sufficient to withstand defendant's motion for summary judgment, and to support the entry of summary judgment in plaintiff's favor. We disagree.

"It is well-established that our review of the grant of a motion for summary judgment requires the two-part analysis of whether, `(1) the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Price v. City of Winston-Salem, 141 N.C.App. 55, 58, 539 S.E.2d 304, 306 (2000), disc. review denied, 353 N.C. 380, 547 S.E.2d 414 (2001) (quoting Gaunt v. Pittaway, 139 N.C.App. 778, 784, 534 S.E.2d 660, 664 (2000)). "`[S]ummary judgment may be granted in a negligence action where there are no genuine issues of material fact and the plaintiff fails to show one of the elements of negligence.'" Willis v. City of New Bern, 137 N.C.App. 762, 764, 529 S.E.2d 691, 692 (2000) (quoting Lavelle v. Schultz, 120 N.C.App. 857, 859, 463 S.E.2d 567, 569 (1995), disc. review denied, 342 N.C. 656, 467 S.E.2d 715 (1996)).

"Municipalities are responsible only for negligent breach of duty, which is made out by showing that (1) a defect existed, (2) an injury was caused thereby, (3) the City officers knew, or should have known from ordinary supervision, the existence of the defect, and (4) that the character of the defect was such that injury ... therefrom might reasonably be anticipated." Desmond v. City of Charlotte, 142 N.C.App. 590, 592, 544 S.E.2d 269, 271 (2001) (citing McClellan v. City of Concord, 16 N.C.App. 136, 191 S.E.2d 430 (1972)).

"[N]otice of the defect, actual or constructive, and a failure to act on the part of the municipality to remedy the situation are prerequisites to recovery in an action involving a municipality." Bowman v. Town of Granite Falls, 21 N.C.App. 333, 334-35, 204 S.E.2d 239, 240-41 (1974) (citing Faw v. North Wilkesboro, 253 N.C. 406, 117 S.E.2d 14 (1960)); see also, Rice v. City of Lumberton, 235 N.C. 227, 236, 69 S.E.2d 543, 549-50 (1952)

(municipal corporation engaged in business of supplying electricity must exercise diligence to repair breaks in high tension wires where it has notice of a break, regardless of cause which produced break); Ward v. City of Charlotte, 48 N.C.App. 463, 467, 269 S.E.2d 663, 666,

disc. review denied, 301 N.C. 531, 273 S.E.2d 463 (1980) ("a municipal corporation is not an insurer of the condition of its sewerage system, and liability may only arise where the municipality has actual or constructive notice of the existence of an obstruction or defect and fails to act.").

In Willis, this Court held that summary judgment in favor of the defendant city was proper where the plaintiff could not "offer proof of any factor which should have given the City constructive notice of a defect in its sidewalk." Willis, 137 N.C.App. at 765,529 S.E.2d at 693. The Court noted that the plaintiff "did not notice any defect in the sidewalk herself until after she had fallen." Id. We stated that "`[t]he happening of an injury does not raise the presumption of negligence. There must be evidence of notice either actual or constructive.... The existence of a condition which causes injury is not negligence per se.'" Id. (quoting Smith v. Hickory, 252 N.C. 316, 318, 113 S.E.2d 557, 559 (1960)).

In Gower v. City of Raleigh, 270 N.C. 149, 153 S.E.2d 857 (1967), our Supreme Court held that the plaintiff could not forecast sufficient evidence that the defendant city had actual or constructive knowledge of a defect in the street on which the plaintiff injured herself. Id. at 151, 153 S.E.2d at 859. The plaintiff testified that she looked down before stepping off the curb and did not observe any defect. Id. The Supreme Court held that the defect would not be more visible to a city inspector than to plaintiff, and that reasonable inspection of the street would not have led to discovery of the defect. Id. The Supreme Court stated: "[i]f the city should have known the crack was a hazard to pedestrians, the plaintiff was negligent in stepping upon it, and thereby contributed to her own injury." Id. at 151-52, 153 S.E.2d at 859.

In this case, plaintiff has failed to offer proof of any factor establishing defendant's actual or constructive notice of the defect in the insulation. The evidence shows that defendant regularly trims trees surrounding electrical wires. Defendant trimmed the trees on Country Club Road, including trees on the property of 1701 Country Club Road, from 25-28 August 1995, less than two months before plaintiff's accident. Shank testified that defendant never received any complaints or notice of any problem with the electricity or electrical wires located at 1701 Country Club Road prior to plaintiff's accident. Plaintiff did not forecast any evidence that defendant was ever notified of any problem with the wires. See Desmond, 142 N.C.App. at 593-94,

544 S.E.2d at 271-72 (plaintiff presented no evidence that city received actual or constructive notice of defect in sidewalk prior to plaintiff's injury where there were "no records of complaints regarding this sidewalk since 1994, when the municipality began maintaining such records.").

Plaintiff testified in his deposition that he did "a visual inspection" around the wires prior to attempting to disconnect the cable service. He testified that he did not "notice anything unusual about any tree limbs before [he] went up on the ladder," and that he did not "notice anything unusual about any electrical wires before [he] went up on the ladder." Plaintiff also testified that there were "leaves all over the tree," such that he did not notice any bare or broken insulation or wires. Plaintiff did not present evidence to show that a reasonable inspection of the area would have led to discovery of the broken insulation. Nor did plaintiff present any evidence as to when the insulation broke or otherwise became bare. See Ward, 48 N.C.App. at 469,

269 S.E.2d at 667 (directed verdict in favor...

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2 cases
  • Shook v. LYNCH & HOWARD, PA
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • May 7, 2002
    ...fact as to plaintiff's allegations of negligence. Summary judgment was appropriate on this basis. See Campbell v. City of High Point, 144 N.C.App. 493, 495-97, 551 S.E.2d 443, 445-47, aff'd, 354 N.C. 566, 557 S.E.2d 529 (2001). Therefore, we do not reach defendants' arguments regarding judi......
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    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • May 18, 2004
    ...the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 56(c) (2003); Campbell v. City of High Point, 144 N.C. App. 493, 495, 551 S.E.2d 443, 445, affirmed per curiam, 354 N.C. 566, 557 S.E.2d 529 (2001). In a negligence action, summary judgment may be gran......

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