Filing a Claim Under the North Carolina Tort Claims Act

Learn about filing a personal injury lawsuit against the State of North Carolina for personal injuries sustained from a state government entity or employee.

What happens when you're injured as a result of someone else's negligence, but the other party is not a private individual or business, but a North Carolina government agency or one if its employees? For instance, if you are hit by a government employee driving a state vehicle, or you slip and fall in a government building, what are your options for getting compensation for your losses?

Filing an injury claim against the government is different from making an ordinary personal injury claim, and it can be an uphill battle. To succeed, you’ll need to know the special rules that apply to claims made against state or local governments in North Carolina -- including the rules laid down by the North Carolina Tort Claims Act. In this article, we'll provide some details on these rules.

The North Carolina Tort Claims Act

The North Carolina Tort Claims Act (NCTCA) begins at Section 143-291 of the North Carolina statutes. Here, the state "waives" its sovereign immunity, allowing itself to be sued if a state officer, employee, or agent negligently causes harm while acting within the scope of their duties. The NCTCA applies in any case where the state could be sued if it were a private entity.

What the North Carolina Tort Claims Act Does (And Does Not) Cover

North Carolina has waived its civil immunity for a number of types of claims: contract claims, claims that the state violated the North Carolina state constitution, or claims governed by federal law. It also waives the state’s immunity against tort claims based on negligence. (Get the basics on Negligence and Fault for an Accident.)

Section 143-291(a) of the North Carolina Tort Claims Act specifies that if a government officer, employee, or agent is acting "within the scope of their duties" and negligently causes harm, the person who was injured may bring a claim against the government. Types of claims commonly filed under this rule include:

  • claims involving car accidents, both those that cause injury and those that cause property damage
  • claims involving a premises liability related injury, such as a slip and fall or an attack caused by inadequate security
  • medical negligence or malpractice claims
  • wrongful death claims
  • other claims in which one party’s negligence caused injuries or other losses that can be compensated in a tort case (like property damage).

The North Carolina Tort Claims Act does not cover cases in which a government employee intentionally caused harm to someone else. For instance, if a government employee deliberately trips you as you walk past, causing you to fall and injure yourself, you cannot bring a claim against the agency for which that person works. You may, however, be able to bring an intentional tort claim against that person as a private individual for the harm they have caused.

Bringing A Claim Against a Local Government in North Carolina

Claims against local or municipal governments in North Carolina, including county and city boards of education, are also governed by the North Carolina Tort Claims Act. For instance, Section 143-300.1 governs claims involving school buses and transportation service vehicles.

Most cities and local governments in North Carolina provide information on their websites and at their offices about how to file a claim against the local government. For instance, the City of Raleigh provides a claim form and instructions on its website.

Procedures for Filing Under the NCTCA (and What You Can Recover)

A claim against the state government, or against a local or municipal government, must be filed within three years if it involves injury or property damage. For wrongful death claims, the claim must be filed within two years.

All claims under the North Carolina Tort Claims Act -- against both state and local governments -- must be filed with the state Industrial Commission. If a claim is between two private parties and it involves the state, however, a state or local government can be added as a third party in a superior or district court.

North Carolina's laws for standard personal injury cases apply to claims filed against the government as well. For instance, North Carolina follows the rule of "contributory negligence," which says that if an injured person is partly at fault for his or her injuries, that person will not be able to recover any damages from any other at-fault party. Learn more about North Carolina's Contributory Negligence Rule (in the context of a slip and fall case).

Damages that are available in a claim against a North Carolina government entity are often similar to those that can be recovered in other types of personal injury cases. For instance, compensation for medical bills, lost wages, damaged property, and "pain and suffering" are frequently available. However, the total award for non-economic damages (which includes "pain and suffering") is capped at $1 million under the NCTCA.