State governments were also previously immune from lawsuits and civil liability. The North Carolina Tort Claims Act (NCTCA) changed this and allows victims of accidents caused by the negligence of a state employee to collect for the damages and losses. The full text of the statute can be found at N.C.G.S. 143–291 et seq.
The NCTCA designates the NC Industrial Commission (the hearing forum that primarily considers workers’ compensation claims) as the court to hear and decide negligence claims against the state and its agents/employees. While this provides a different setting for hearings/trials of injury and accident cases against state agencies and employees, the law of damages and the rights of compensation are the same as we see in typical accidents involving private parties.
If your accident is caused by a county, city, or municipal employee, sovereign immunity remains and the victim has no legal right of payment from the local government. While the local government may elect to honor certain claims or expenses, this is their choice and they only pay what their internal policies require. They also may choose to deny payment on all accident claims.
In city/county/municipality cases, there are three ways to collect for your losses. First, if a city or county purchases liability insurance to protect them from suit, immunity is waived to the extent of the available coverage limits. Thus, if there is insurance, you can collect exclusively from that source. Second, if there is no liability insurance, the government may still choose to pay certain expenses, even though they remain immune from liability. Third, if immunity remains as a defense, you can use your uninsured motorist coverage as a last-resort payment source for all damages that the municipality will not voluntarily pay.
Example: Winston Salem Fire-Truck Driver Not Liable
An unfortunate example of local government immunity occurred when a Winston Salem firefighter ran a red light while en route to a fire call and caused a devastating car crash. The young woman involved in the collision was hospitalized for her injuries, but she did recover. The city did not purchase liability insurance coverage, and, thus, they had no obligation to pay anything to the victim. City ordinances and policy provided that Winston Salem local funds would only pay for car damage and medical expenses arising from this accident. Nothing more could be collected. Fortunately, our client had a large personal auto policy and we were able to collect all of the remaining damages due by leveling unpaid claims against the UM/UIM coverage on the victim’s auto policy.