Thursday, May 21, 2009

Is North Carolina Guilty of Reckless Endangerment?

Eleven years ago North Carolina lawmakers were informed that Western North Carolina mountain real estate was landslide-hazardous. This risk assessment prompted the state to authorize landslide mapping for 23 mountain counties. Since the 2000 study was instituted, 6 homeowners have been killed by landslides and 15 western counties have been declared disaster areas.

Following the September 2004 disasters the General Assembly acknowledged, in February 2005, the need to accelerate landslide hazard mapping for the region:
Further...people could not know the landslide risks associated with their housing location because such maps are not readily available. The state needs to...prepare landslide mapping for the region so that homes may be built in safe areas.
Governor Easley confirmed the importance of hazard-identification maps and landslide disclosure in his October 2006 landslide press release:
These (Macon County) maps will show which areas are prone to landslides and that will help developers, county officials and residents decide where to safely build homes, roads and other structures.
The state has urgent unmet obligations. Since 2000 only two counties have been mapped for landslides. Geographic information system maps show that more than a thousand Macon and Watauga County homeowners are at elevated landslide risk.

Landslide hazards remain concealed. The public will find no hint in developers' advertising, on county and chamber websites or in real estate contracts that Western North Carolina mountain home sites are potentially dangerous. How dangerous? That question can only be answered by state licensed geologists and they do not have a seat on any Western North Carolina county planning board.

There is one lawmaker who has not been silent. Representative Ray Rapp has twice proposed legislation to regulate hazardous residential construction practices and to require landslide real estate risk disclosure. These measures, opposed by North Carolina Realtors, have been relegated to study committees.

It is unknown whether a state has been charged with reckless endangerment but the actions of the members of the North Carolina General Assembly certainly meet the criteria:
Reckless endangerment: A person commits the crime of reckless endangerment if the person recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person. "Reckless" conduct is conduct that exhibits a culpable disregard of foreseeable consequences to others from the act or omission involved. The accused need not intentionally cause a resulting harm or know that his conduct is substantially certain to cause that result. The ultimate question is whether, under all the circumstances, the accused’s conduct was of that heedless nature that made it actually or imminently dangerous to the rights or safety of others.

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