North Carolina Appellate Court Says Basketball Referee’s Negligence Claim Against School Board is Barred by Statutory Immunity


basketballA life-changing injury can happen anywhere, anytime. In sports, it is not uncommon for a career-ending event to happen on a football field or basketball court.

Even referees can get hurt, not only from the game itself but also from other dangers, such as an uneven surface along the court.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case originating in the Mecklenburg County Superior Court, the plaintiff was a man who filed suit against the defendant board of education, seeking to recover compensation for injuries he sustained when falling on a “warped and uneven area” near a high school basketball court where he was acting as a referee during a tournament organized by a private, non-school organization.

According to the plaintiff, he sustained both anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligament tears in his left knee, as well an avulsion fracture of the proximal lateral fibula. He further alleged that his injuries required multiple surgeries, costing more than $300,000.

The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice.

Decision of the Court of Appeals of North Carolina

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court had erred when it dismissed his complaint under the doctrines of statutory immunity and governmental immunity. The appellate court disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s order dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint.

The plaintiff argued that the trial court erred when it ruled in the defendant’s favor on the ground of statutory immunity because, according to the plaintiff, the defendant could not establish that it complied with its own rules and regulations with regard to the basketball tournament during which the plaintiff was hurt. Specifically, the plaintiff pointed out that the organizers of the tournament were not required to have liability insurance, even though the defendant’s rules required it.

In rejecting the plaintiff’s argument, the court pointed out that North Carolina General Statutes § 115C-524(c) provides specific, statutory immunity to boards of education like the defendant for injuries suffered by individuals (such as the plaintiff) who participate in non-school-related events or activities on school grounds.

As to the defendant’s entitlement to dismissal on the ground of sovereign immunity, the court noted that the plaintiff claimed that the defendant waived its immunity by entering into a contract with the organizers of the tournament and that he was a third-party beneficiary to that contract. However, the court found that the plaintiff’s argument was based on the notion of common law immunity rather than statutory immunity. Since the defendant complied with the mandate of the statute, it was entitled to immunity. According to the court, “the existence of a contract cannot be both a requirement for and an exception to the application of statutory immunity.”

To Schedule an Appointment with a Helpful Raleigh Personal Injury Attorney

Serious injuries and even a wrongful death can occur in just a few seconds when an individual, business, or government behaves negligently or recklessly. To talk to a knowledgeable Raleigh injury attorney about your case, call Nagle & Associates toll-free at 800-411-1583. Our phones are answered around the clock, and we serve clients across the entire state of North Carolina.

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