Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Wrongful Death Claim

In an opinion filed on December 2, 2014, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the order dismissing a wrongful death suit by the estate of a 19-year-old man, because the decedent’s contributory negligence barred his estate’s claim as a matter of law, pursuant to Sorrells v. M.Y.B. Hospitality Ventures of Asheville, 332 N.C. 645, 423 S.E.2d 72 (1992). The decedent consumed alcohol at his grandparents’ house in the company of his family, then drove his grandmother’s vehicle from the house, but wrecked before leaving the subdivision. The claims advanced on a theory of social host liability were barred by the decedent’s contributory negligence in drinking and driving. The claims advanced on a theory of the special relationship between the decedent and his father failed, because the decedent was nineteen years old – past the age of majority and not in his father’s legal custody or control – and thus, the decedent’s father did not have a special duty to prevent the decedent from harming himself, as would exist in a relationship between a parent and an un-emancipated minor child.

The Defendant, John C. Matthews, was represented before the trial court by Jim Welsh of Davis & Hamrick and on appeal by Jim Welsh and Ann Rowe of Davis & Hamrick.