Runaway utility trailer leads to $600K settlement

By: Heath Hamacher October 26, 2015

On May 18, 2011, 24-year-old Michael Carlough was relaxing inside his car, parked outside a Wilmington restaurant, listening to music and waiting to meet a friend for dinner. He barely had time to react before a careening utility trailer broadsided his Honda Accord, it’s tongue piercing the door where he sat.

Restrained by his seatbelt, Carlough tried to get out of the way but was knocked unconscious on impact. His legs still under the steering wheel, Carlough’s body stretched across the car and his head rested, pinned, against the passenger door.

The trailer, packed with paint and plywood, pushed the car several feet across the pavement and into another car. Firefighters and emergency medical workers were eventually able to free Carlough, who was taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center where he spent 3 ½ days in ICU.

According to one of his attorneys, Christopher Behm of Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed in Wilmington, Carlough suffered multiple pelvis fractures, a ruptured bladder, abrasions and nerve contusions. He narrowly escaped being cut in half, Behm said.

Complications from the accident, Behm said, caused his client to endure eight pain-filled days before he could undergo surgery to repair his pelvis.

On the fifth day of trial against the construction company that owned the trailer and the men who were driving the truck, when Behm rested his case, the parties settled for $600,000. Before the jury trial began, Behm said, Superior Court Judge John Nobles had already determined that the defendants had been negligent. The jury was there to determine damages.

After being discharged on June 1, 2011, Carlough spent two months in a wheelchair before returning to work as a customer service representative at a local furniture store. But after two years and two more surgeries, Behm said, doctors determined that Carlough had reached maximum medical improvement and had suffered 30 percent permanent impairment to his pelvis with permanent scarring and disfigurement.

According to court documents, the truck and trailer were owned by local general contractor R&L Builders & Sons. Defendant Charles Williams was driving and two other named defendants were passengers in the truck.

As Williams drove down South College Road, documents say, the trailer became unhitched from the truck, jumped a curb and traveled “unimpeded” across several commercial properties before crashing into Carlough’s vehicle.

According to a police report, Williams said that he believed one of his employees failed to properly secure the utility trailer to the truck. The officer who prepared the report noted that the chains that were supposed to keep the trailer attached “did not appear to be in proper working order.”

An investigator hired by the plaintiff, engineer Johnnie Hennings of Accident Reconstruction Analysis in Raleigh, inspected the trailer and truck on June 9, 2011, noting that the wiring connector had been reattached since the accident and two new safety chains with hooks had been installed.

Williams testified that he replaced the chains the evening of the accident at the direction of R&L Builders’ Ricky Barnhill, also a named defendant.

According to court documents, Barnhill initially granted Hennings permission to inspect the trailer but eventually asked him to leave R&L property before the inspection was completed.

In his deposition, Barnhill said he thought that Hennings was only going to snap a few pictures, that he “didn’t know [Hennings] was going to get down and crawl all under the trailer.” Barnhill wasn’t being paid, he said, “to stand there and look at [Hennings] and watch him.”

An attorney for R&L Builders, Dwight Rodgers of Gaylord Rodgers in Raleigh, was not immediately available for comment.

According to Behm, before the accident, Carlough, a local musician, enjoyed sports such as long-distance running. Doctors have limited Carlough to low-impact activities that don’t stress his lower extremities and have said that future medical complications, including arthritis, may await.

“All things considered,” Behm said, Carlough is doing well today.

“However, he is only 29 years old and faces some uncertainties as he ages,” Behm said. “Nonetheless, he is satisfied with the settlement he ultimately received.”



Amount: $600,000

Injuries alleged: Multiple pelvis fracture, lacerated bladder, nerve contusions and abrasions

Case name: Carlough v. Williams, Pridgen, R&L Builders & Sons and Barnhill

Court: New Hanover County Superior Court

Case number: 14-CVS-1589

Judge: John Nobles

Date: Aug. 8

Most helpful experts: Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neil MacIntyre III of Wilmington and Johnnie Hennings, P.E., of Accident Reconstruction Analysis in Raleigh

Insurance carrier: State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Cos.

Attorneys for plaintiff: Christopher Behm and Jamie Getty of Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed in Wilmington

Attorney for defendant: Dwight Rodgers Jr. of Gaylord Rodgers in Raleigh

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Evidence Tampering...and note it is another NO UNDERWRITING State Farm Policy Holder....

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