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Can personal injury claims be made against the State of North Carolina and its agents?

Riddle Brantley LLP   |  January 19, 2015   |  

Yes. Even though the state has sovereign immunity (which means that the government cannot be sued) with respect to its agencies, the state has waived protection from this immunity depending upon the nature of the claim. North Carolina and its agencies waive immunity for negligence claims through the operation of the State Tort Claims Act, N.C.G.S sections 143 – 291 et seq. This Act was passed in 1951 and since that time the waiver of immunity by the State has permitted certain types of actions for personal injury and wrongful death based upon negligent actions of the state, its agencies and employees. Under this Act, an individual or individuals need only file an affidavit with the Industrial Commission and no complaint need be filed in the regular court system. However, this process is still a legal process and the claimant(s) should seek legal counsel as the affidavit must contain:

  1. The name of the claimant
  2. The name of the department, institution or agency of the State against which the claim is asserted, and the name of the State employee upon whose negligence the claim is based
  3. The amount of damages sought to be recovered
  4. The time and place where the incident occurred; and
  5. A brief statement of the facts and circumstances surrounding the injury and giving rise to the claim.

Under this Act, the North Carolina Industrial Commission is constituted a court for the purpose of hearing and passing upon the claims made against the State Board of Education, the Board of Transportation, and all other departments, institutions and agencies of the State. Under NCGS 143-291, the Industrial Commission shall determine if the claim occurred as a result of the negligence of the State (any officer, employee, involuntary servant, or agent of the State while acting within the scope of his office or duties or authority), under circumstances where the State, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant. If the Industrial Commission determines that the State is liable, then the Industrial Commission will also determine the amount of damages to be awarded to the claimant. However, the maximum amount that the state may pay cumulatively to all claimants for damages arising out of any one occurrence is $1,000,000. N.C.G.S. 143-299.2. Therefore, there is a cap on the amount the State must pay regardless of the amounts of medical bills incurred or damages suffered. As with other claims for injury as a result of negligence, a claim may not be filed after 3 years from the date of the occurrence resulting in injury. If the claim is for wrongful death, then the claim must be filed within 2 years after such injury resulting in death. N.C.G.S. 143-299. An attorney should be contacted to determine what the appropriate time period would be for any limitation on claims.

As compared to any other landowner in North Carolina, the State is liable for actions arising out of injuries suffered by citizens while on property owned and or maintained by the State. The State owes the same reasonable duty of care to citizens using State land as a private person or business owes to the citizens. The State’s duty extends to those citizens who travel on the State’s highways.

Most importantly, the Industrial Commission has jurisdiction to hear and determine claims related to accidents involving public school buses (yellow buses). NCGS 143-300.1. Therefore, injuries to students caused by the negligence of yellow school bus drivers will be heard and determined by the Industrial Commission and such claims will not be heard in our regular court system. If the injuries to students occur as a result of the negligence of another driver, and not the driver of the yellow school bus, then the claim will not be heard by the Industrial Commission. Accordingly, private school buses owned by churches and private educational schools are not covered under this Act and claims against those private entities would be made against those entities in our regular court system and not be heard in the Industrial Commission.