The duty of a nocturnal motorist to exercise ordinary care for his own safety does not extend so far as to require that he has to be able to bring his automobile to an immediate stop on the sudden arising of a dangerous situation that he could not reasonably have anticipated. Any such requirement is tantamount to an adjudication that it is negligence to drive an automobile on a highway in the nighttime at all. The law simply decrees that a person operating a motor vehicle at night has to drive in such a manner that he can stop his automobile or change its course in time to avoid collision with any obstacle or obstruction whose presence on the highway is reasonably perceivable to him or reasonably expectable by him. It certainly does not require him to see that which is invisible to a person exercising ordinary care. A person is not bound to anticipate negligent acts or omissions on the part of others; but in the absence of anything that gives or should give notice to the contrary, he is entitled to assume and to act upon the assumption that every other person will perform his duty and obey the law and that he will not be exposed to danger that can come to him only from the violation of duty or law by such other person.
An auto driver filed a property damage action against a truck driver as a result of the auto colliding with the truck, which was parked on a highway at night without warning lights or signals. The truck driver conceded that parking his truck on the traveled portion of the highway at night without displaying lights or warning signals was sufficient to establish actionable negligence on his part. He claimed that the auto driver was guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law because the auto driver did not control his car in order to be able to stop within the range of the auto driver's lights. The trial court entered the jury's verdict that the auto was damaged by the truck driver's negligence and that the auto driver was not contributorily negligent. On appeal to the Supreme Court of North Carolina, the truck driver claimed that the trial court erred in refusing to dismiss the action and in allowing the auto driver to amend his complaint after the verdict but before judgment.
Was the trial courts decision proper?
The court held that: (1) the auto driver had no reason whatever to anticipate or expect that the truck had been left standing on the traveled portion of the highway ahead of him without lights or warning signals until his car came within 30 feet of it; (2) the auto driver did everything possible to avoid the collision just as soon as the truck became visible; (3) the auto driver was not guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law; and (4) the auto driver's amendment to his complaint did not change the claim, so the amendment was permissible under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-163.