Holding The State Accountable For A Child’s Death

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Fourteen-year-old Steven Canipe, Jr. lived on a state highway, about a half mile from his school, which meant he did not receive bus transportation.  He, therefore, often walked to and from school.  The route required him to cross a curved, three-way intersection that had no pedestrian safety facilities (sidewalks, crosswalks, markings, signals, flashers).  On October 24, 2014, when Steven attempted to cross the intersection, a car struck and killed him.

Steven’s family asked Thomas D. Bumgardner to look into the intersection’s safety conditions and pursue a case against the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT)

Such a  matter, though, would not be the usual personal injury case.  NCDOT and its agents, have Sovereign Immunity and cannot be sued, that is unless the state agrees to waive the protection.  Under the North Carolina Tort Claims Act, the state will agree if the injured individual or their estate can prove that that a state employee working within their authority negligently caused their injuries.  Furthermore, the North Carolina Industrial Commission (NCIC), rather than state court, hears all matters involving the North Carolina Tort Claims Act.

Records revealed that as far back as 1999, local representatives and school administrators were concerned about the particular intersection on which Steven was killed, noting that it was the was the most hazardous crossing the children in the county’s over fifty schools navigated daily.   They contacted the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) several times, but it never investigated the intersection. 

The driver of the car did not see Steven or even realize they struck him until another individual later pulled them over.  The NCIC found inadequate evidence to establish their negligence.

The NCIC determined that NCDOT had a legal obligation to maintain safe pedestrian walking conditions on the road Steven used.  When it received notice that the intersection was unsafe and did not assess the need for or install pedestrian safety facilities, it negligently breached its duty.  That breach reasonably predicted cars striking pedestrians and caused Steven’s death. 

While NCDOT claimed Steven could have crossed the road at another intersection and failed to look both ways before crossing, NCIC did not find such assertions or testimony credible. 

NCIC awarded Steven’s family $1 million in damages, the maximum allowed under the North Carolina Tort Claims Act.  Steven’s parents and siblings, nonetheless, continue to suffer a heartrending loss.  Though the case made them relive the worst day of their lives over and over again for several years, they hoped NCDOT would eventually take road condition concerns seriously.  In the near year since the case’s decision, however, road conditions remain the same. 

If a state employee injured you or someone about whom you care, you need a dedicated attorney who knows how to handle such matters.  Thomas D. Baumgardner has the skills and background you need.  He’s won various personal injury matters, including complex cases and those that have gone onto the state supreme court.   He passionately pursues justice and compensation for his clients.  Contact him at 704-887-4981 or email him at to learn more about the legal services he provides and to book an appointment.

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