Sovereign Immunity And The North Carolina Tort Claims Act

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North Carolina laws (and those in other states, too) allow people to seek restitution from those who harm them.  Such matters focus closely on the legal concept of negligence.  The law expects individuals and entities to behave responsibly and not subject others to danger.  If an individual or entity acts otherwise or negligently, they can injure or even kill other people. 

North Carolina law allows injured people to seek financial compensation from the negligent individuals and entities who hurt them.   They may seek a monetary amount that makes them whole or returns them to their prior position before the negligent party harmed them.  Sometimes, they can also seek punitive damages. 

In North Carolina, there is no limit to the compensatory damages an injured person may seek or receive.  The state, however, limits punitive damages to three times the compensatory damages and no more than $250,000.

Please bear in mind that this is an extremely simplified summary of personal injury matters.  Many factors, including injury, situation, and type of accident greatly impact these cases.  Moreover, negligence involves even more elements and legal principles.   

So, what happens when a North Carolina agent, employee, or the state itself is the negligent party?  Do the same laws and legal doctrines apply?

No.  Because Sovereign Immunity applies. 

Sovereign Immunity

Sovereign Immunity is a judicial principle that precludes people from suing the government without its permission.  Accordingly, it derives from the English belief that the “crown” was always right. 

At first, the Supreme Court maintained Sovereign Immunity.  As time went on, Congress passed laws that eventually allowed the United Stated to waive Sovereign Immunity and individuals could finally sue it, under specified situations.   

The Constitution’s Eleventh Amendment grants each state sovereign immunity from lawsuits other states, foreign countries, and citizens of foreign countries.  The Supreme Court later broadened that protection to include a state’s own citizens.   

After Congress established the Fourteenth Amendment, it used the Equal Protection and Due Process guarantees to create civil rights and applied other laws to the states.  When the Supreme Court reviewed these laws, it considered whether Congress did away with sovereign immunity.  The court then held in these and other cases that unless a state waived sovereign immunity, individuals could not sue them.   

Each state now individually defines when and how it will waive Sovereign Immunity. 

The North Carolina State Tort Claims Act

Under The North Carolina Tort Claims Act (NCTCA), the state will waive sovereign immunity and allow an injured person to sue it.  The injured person must prove that a state employee, acting within the capacity of their office or authority, negligently caused their injuries. 

Like standard personal injury matters, cases filed under NCTCA can include the following situations:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Medical malpractice claims
  • Wrongful death actions
  • Slip and falls
  • School bus accidents

Compensation in a NCTCA matter is also similar to what an injured person can seek in a standard personal injury case.  The person can seek reimbursement for medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and “pain and suffering.”  But, unlike a standard personal injury case, the act limits monetary awards to $1 million. 

As well, North Carolina’s contributory law applies.  Such means that if a judge or jury finds the injured individual negligent in any way, they cannot receive any compensation. 

Filing a case against the state, even when it waives sovereign immunity, can be extremely difficult.  Those seeking to do so absolutely need an attorney who is experienced, not just with personal injury laws, but with NCTA.  And, there are time limits to when people can file their cases.   An individual must file a person injury cases within two years and a wrongful death case within three years. 

Thomas D. Baumgardner has represented clients in NCTA cases and has recovered millions of dollars.  He will work hard for your rights and seek the justice you deserve.  Contact him at (704) 870-4779 email him at to learn more about the legal services he provides and to book an appointment.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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