Martishius v. Carolco Studios, Inc., 562 S.E.2d 887 (N.C., 2002)

In January 1993, Crowvision, Inc., an independent production company, was working on the construction of a church and cemetery set facade for the film, “The Crow.” The area of the back lot where contstruction was taking place was in close proximity to energized Carolina Power & Light (CP & L) power lines.

Plaintiff James L. Martishius was hired to work for Crowvision as a carpenter. On February 1, 1993, Martishius’ supervisor instructed him to help with the construction foreman on construction of the church/cemetery set. Martishius was using a piece of mobile equipment to attempt to move the church door, as instructed. As Martishius was positioning the equipment to pick up the door, the equipment hit an overhead power line, sending out sparks and an explosion. As a result, Martishius suffered severe burns over 45% of his body and was blinded in one eye. The accident also resulted in severe facial disfigurement, and required reconstructive surgery.

On April 8, 1994, Martishius and his wife Cindy filed a negligence lawsuit against Carolco Studios, CP & L, Edward R. Pressman Film Corporation, Crowvision, and Hertz Equipment Rental Corporation. The claims were settled or dismissed with all defendants except Carolco. Carolco moved for a directed verdict after presentation of the evidence, but was denied. A jury found the plaintiff was not contributorily negligent, and awarded Martishius $2.5 million.

On appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, a divided panel of judges affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The case was then appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court of North Carolina found that the evidence presented at trial, including testimony of expert witnesses, affirmed the jury’s finding of negligence on the part of Carolco Studios. Additionally, the defendant not only knew of Crowvision’s activity in the back lot, but also maintained control over the contractor’s use of the facilities. The defendant knew of the dangerous conditions, and it was not unforeseeable that the type of injury Martishius sustained would result from Carolco’s negligence.

The defendant also failed to meet its burden of proving as a matter of law that Martishius was contributorily negligent, as any contradictions are to be handled by the jury, and not the trial judge. The Supreme Court upheld the award in favor of Martishius.

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