A government cannot function if it is constantly being pestered by lawsuits from citizens who may be inconvenienced by its actions. Therefore, a fundamental rule for government in the United States is the sovereign immunity doctrine. Government at all levels—federal, state, municipal, even local school boards—is immune to lawsuits that could interfere with proper functioning. This is even true of personal injury lawsuits. After all, without sovereign immunity, anyone whose business, recreation, or personal life was hampered by regulations could tie up local government with lawsuits.
There is another reason why sovereign immunity protects government employees from lawsuits. A private business can be held liable if its employee causes a traffic accident in Lumberton or Leland. Likewise, if there were no sovereign immunity, government would also share liability if its employee caused a crash while working on the job. But if government were compelled to pay damages, that money would ultimately come from the pockets of citizens in the form of taxes, unjustly punishing innocent people financially.
The limits to sovereign immunity
While sovereign immunity shelters government and its employees from many lawsuits, the law makes specific exceptions for some tort (personal injury) cases.
For the federal government, the 1948 Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) formally sets aside sovereign immunity for many types of negligence by nonmilitary federal officials. The government assumes the same degree of liability as a private employer would have under similar circumstances, except it cannot be sued for punitive damages. In most cases, that means if a federal government vehicle was involved in your North Carolina traffic accident, or if a federal employee’s negligence led to your car crash in Wilmington, then you can proceed with your lawsuit.
The North Carolina State Tort Claims Act does not apply as broadly as the federal law. However, as a general rule, North Carolina state government agencies—as well as city and county governments—are considered to have waived their sovereign immunity at least as far as the value of their liability insurance coverage. Thus, if your car has been struck by a school bus in New Hanover County, you can expect to receive compensation up to the maximum coverage provided by the insurance policy. If your local government has made the decision not to carry insurance, then you may not be able to recover anything.
You should also expect that local governments will still hold on to their immunity if you suffer any losses in emergency situations. If a fire truck accidentally collides with your auto during an emergency call, you will probably not be able to recover for the damage to your car.
Filing a vehicle accident claim against the government
As the previous discussion makes clear, suing the government after a vehicle accident can be a very complicated task. Fortunately, there is a Wilmington personal injury law firm ready to take on the challenge.
If you have been the victim of an accident in New Hanover County or any other nearby areas (Pender County, Brunswick County, Columbus County, or Robeson County), you should call Speaks Law Firm today at 910-341-7570—or 877-593-4233 toll-free anywhere in the state. We will schedule a free and confidential meeting to discuss your case, and also send you a FREE copy of The North Carolina Auto Injury Book by our founder, R. Clarke Speaks.