From parks and sidewalks to roads and government buildings, many of the places we go every day are city property. Cities also have large numbers of employees involved in the construction, maintenance, and repair of public spaces.
Sometimes city employees are negligent in their duties. When this happens, accidents can occur and members of the public may suffer injury.
If you have been injured on city property or in an accident involving a city employee, you may be entitled to compensation. However, claims against a municipality are subject to special rules, limitations, and procedures under North Carolina law.
5 Important Facts About Suing a City for Negligence in North Carolina
Any type of personal injury claim can be complicated. However, this is especially true when a city or other municipality is the defendant.
If you believe negligence on the part of the municipal government and/or a city employee caused you harm, here are five important facts you need to know:
1. The North Carolina State Tort Claims Act Includes a Limited Waiver of Immunity for Negligence Claims
As a general rule, cities in North Carolina and other states are immune from personal injury lawsuits. However, most states – including North Carolina – have also adopted a law that waives this “sovereign immunity” in certain circumstances.
In North Carolina, this law is the State Tort Claims Act (STCA) (see North Carolina General Statutes § 143-291). Under the STCA, individuals can sue cities and other government entities for negligence as long as they meet the STCA’s deadlines and procedural requirements.
It is important to note that the STCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity does not apply to all types of personal injury claims. For example, sovereign immunity is not waived for claims stemming from a city employee’s intentional misconduct.
However, negligence claims are generally allowed under the statute, provided that North Carolina’s contributory negligence law does not also apply.
2. Negligence Claims Against Cities Can Take Many Forms
Multiple issues of negligence may be involved in a lawsuit against a city in North Carolina. Some examples of potential grounds for filing a personal injury lawsuit against a city under the STCA include:
- Accidents caused by failure to remove snow or remedy other safety hazards
- Accidents involving inadequate maintenance of public parks and facilities
- Auto accidents involving city vehicles
Keep in mind, however, that not all errors on the part of a municipality and its agents rise to the level of negligence. For example, if it had recently snowed and city workers hadn’t yet had an opportunity to clear the sidewalk where you fell, you might not have a claim in this scenario.
As with all types of personal injury claims, determining whether you have a personal injury claim requires a prompt and thorough investigation of the circumstances involved.
3. You Must File a Notice of Claim to Preserve Your Legal Rights
If you have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit against a city in North Carolina, you must promptly file a notice of claim to preserve your legal rights. If your notice of claim is late or deficient in any respect, this can lead to a dismissal.
The time limit for filing the notice of claim varies by city. To ensure that your notice of claim satisfies the requirements of the local municipality, you will want to hire a lawyer who has experience handling claims against government entities in North Carolina as soon as possible.
4. You Must Be Able to Prove That the City (or a City Employee) Breached the Duty of Care
Negligence is the failure of a party or parties to exercise reasonable caution when performing an action with the potential to harm someone else. This is known as the duty of care, and it is an essential component of proving a personal injury claim.
Proving that an error on the part of a municipality rises to the level of negligence is one of the most challenging aspects of filing a lawsuit against a city under the STCA. Further complicating matters is the fact that government entities and their employees do not owe the same duty of care in all circumstances.
For example, cities must keep public property reasonably safe for visitors classified as “invitees.” However, they do not owe the same duty to trespassers.
5. You Must Be Able to Prove That the City’s Breach of Duty Led to an Injury
Finally, to file a lawsuit against a city for negligence, you must also be able to prove that the city’s breach of duty caused your injuries. This element of a personal injury claim is known as causation.
Say, for example, that you slip and fall on a wet walkway controlled by the city. The evidence must show that the slippery conditions caused you to fall and suffer injury. A knowledgeable lawyer can collect and review medical records, photos, witness statements, and more in support of your claim.
Understanding your rights under the North Carolina State Tort Claims Act can be difficult. If you have been injured on municipal property or the negligence of a government employee caused you harm, it is in your best interest to seek qualified legal counsel as soon as possible.
The Whitley Law Firm has extensive experience handling claims involving individuals, corporations, and government entities. We understand the challenges of bringing a personal injury claim against a city, and we can build a strong case on your behalf.
Please call the Whitley Law Firm at (919) 785-5000 today for a free consultation. Our personal injury lawyers serve clients throughout North Carolina from offices in Raleigh, Kinston, and New Bern.