Distracted drivers caused 54,302 crashes, injuries, and wrongful deaths in North Carolina in 2016. If you travel on the streets or highways, you are at risk for being injured or killed by someone who is more interested in their phone than their driving.
On the morning of May 10, 2016, Russell Rutledge was driving his Chevrolet Silverado from a business meeting in Garner to meet a colleague in Durham. As he drove, Rutledge was using his cell phone to text, email, and make and receive phone calls. The evidence showed that Rutledge drifted onto the shoulder of Highway 98 in Durham County. Rutledge struck Eugene Rotberg from behind as he was riding his bicycle in the shoulder. Mr. Rotberg was a 66-year-old former physical education teacher and athletic director who had recently retired from Dillard Elementary School in Wake County. Mr. Rotberg, who had more than 50 years experience riding bicycles, died from the injuries he received from the crash.
After hitting and killing Mr. Rotberg, Rutledge did not stop his truck, and did not know where the collision occurred. It took Durham County sheriff deputies 30 minutes to find Mr. Rotberg’s body. Rutledge pled guilty to Misdemeanor Death by Motor Vehicle in May 2017 in Durham County Court. Because of the plea deal Rutledge served 75 days in jail, but was allowed work release on every day except for Sundays. Our client, the Rotberg family, asked us to represent them in the civil suit because of the loss of their husband and father.
Ann Groninger and Valerie Johnson tried the North Carolina wrongful death case before a jury in Durham County. The trial lasted from October 22 through November 6. Defendant Rutledge testified and admitted for the first time that he had failed to reduce speed and caused the crash. Yet Mr. Rutledge maintained that Mr. Rotberg had somehow moved in front of his truck as Rutledge tried to pass him. The testimony from the highway patrol officers was clear: all of the crash debris from the bicycle and the pickup truck was found in the shoulder or in the grass. The impact from the pickup truck was directly to the back of the bicycle and sheared off the bicycle seat. The reconstruction of the collision showed that Rutledge would have had more than 1300 fee of sight distance in which to see Mr. Rotberg, and that there was no blind spot as he claimed. There was so little possibility that Mr. Rotberg contributed to the crash that the judge refused to let the jury consider that issue.
The jury found that $4,500,000 was fair compensation for the estate for Mr Rotberg’s tragic and wrongful death. The family appreciates the care and attention the jury gave to the case and is satisfied with the result. About the verdict, Groninger said, “I believe it’s the right result. Distracted drivers are dangerous to everyone who uses the road. While the verdict won’t bring back this beloved husband and father, it does reflect the importance of his life and of safe driving behavior. I hope this is a wake up call for all of us.”
If you or your loved one is the victim of a distracted driver, or has been injured because of the fault of another driver, call Ann Groninger or Valerie Johnson at Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC at (919) 240-4054. We can help.
A certified workers’ compensation specialist, Valerie represents state employees, union members, police officers, and all types of North Carolina workers. She also teaches trial skills to third year law students at the University of North Carolina School of Law and has taught workers’ compensation law at Wake Forest University. Listed in Best Lawyers in America in the area of workers’ compensation, Valerie was admitted to the National Academy of Social Insurance in 2011.