Copeland v. Amward Homes Of N.C., Inc., et al.

Erwin Byrd

Contract Amicus Brief Writer

Erwin Byrd started working with NCAJ in January 2020. Her legal career began with a seven-year stint at Legal Aid of North Carolina, where she was a staff attorney for its statewide project, Advocates for Children’s Services. There, she represented children in matters involving special education, access to a constitutionally adequate education, school discipline and Medicaid. Byrd taught school discipline law as an adjunct at North Carolina Central University School of Law and clerked from 2017-2019 for Justice Samuel J. Ervin IV at the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

She is an avid reader, loves writing and enjoys researching all areas of law (with the possible exception of taxation and trusts and estates law). At NCAJ, she is the contracted amicus consultant, who writes and assists in the drafting and filing of amicus briefs in North Carolina state and federal appellate courts. This year, she is the president of her children’s elementary school PTA, and has found that’s about all the extracurricular work she can sustain. Byrd is a graduate of the University of the South in Sewanee in Tennessee and the University of North Carolina School of Law. She, her husband and their two children live in Durham and can often be found at a soccer field or in a lake or river.

Case Link View Now
Opinion Filed October 29, 2021
Attorney for the Case William Bystrynski
Amicus Brief Writers Erwin Byrd Jon Ward
Court NC Supreme Court
Docket No. 56PA20

NCAJ filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the plaintiffs, parents of a young boy who was killed by an unattended, runaway dump truck in the Hillsborough planned community where the family lived.  Parts of the housing development were still under construction, and the dump truck rolled from a lot that was being graded for building across the street from plaintiffs’ home. 

The Superior Court, Orange County, allowed the defendants-developers’, Crescent Hillsborough, LLC and Crescent Communities, LLC, motion for summary judgment and plaintiffs appealed. The North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed, on the grounds that plaintiffs “forecast evidence that this development occurred on unusually steep, hilly terrain; that the construction would involve heavy equipment and materials; that there were foreseeable risks of roll-aways during construction; and that a reasonably prudent developer would take steps to sequence construction or grade the area in advance to avoid foreseeable harm caused by these construction accidents.”  Copeland v. Amward Homes of N.C., Inc., 269 N.C. App. 143, 144–45, 837 S.E.2d 903, 905 (2020).

The Supreme Court of N.C. granted defendant developers’ petition seeking discretionary review. NCAJ’s brief argues that the Court of Appeals is correct and there is no reason for the developers to escape liability as a matter of law in this situation. If the bedrock principles of negligence typically applied in North Carolina had been applied by the trial court in this case, it would have advanced to the jury to determine whether the developers were negligent. The brief examines North Carolina appellate law establishing the duty of architects, builders, and sellers of land for development, as well as recent Supreme Court decisions from this and other states reinforcing the jury’s role in determining negligence. In essence, NCAJ contends that it would not be groundbreaking to hold developers to a standard of reasonable care in planning and building housing developments, and that it would be a deviation from North Carolina law to immunize developers from their negligent conduct.