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Sovereign Immunity under North Carolina Law


Just like corporations, governmental entities can be responsible for mistakes that cause serious personal injury, property damage, or financial loss. Regrettably, governmental entities in North Carolina are by default immune from damages for certain types of conduct. This means that even if you are injured or sustain serious financial loss due to the negligence of an employee of Wake County, for example, you may not be entitled to any money damages. Many governmental agencies have, however, voluntarily waived their sovereign immunity for certain types of conduct and/or damages. It is important that if you have been hurt by a governmental entity, such as a city or county, you contact a knowledgeable civil litigation attorney. The Raleigh civil attorneys of Maginnis Howard can be reached at (919) 526-0450 or by email using our contact page.

The general rule in North Carolina is that a governmental entity waives sovereign immunity to the extent that it obtains liability coverage. Many counties will, for example, purchase a liability policy that provides coverage for the medical expenses of anyone injured in an automobile accident where a county employee is at-fault.

A good example of sovereign immunity at play is found in the recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case Bullard v. Wake County. In that case, Dr. Dennis Bullard and his wife, Wendy Bullard, sued Wake County for alleged negligent inspection of a construction project. The Bullards contended that the County had failed to adequately inspect their new home and had negligently issued a certificate of occupancy. Within only a few months of its purchase, the Bullards discovered significant structural defects. When they won an approximately $2.4 million recovery against the home builder, Tall House, it went into bankruptcy. Proceeding against the County was their only option.

Unfortunately for the Bullards, the Court of Appeals found that Wake County had not waived its sovereign immunity. Its insurance policy contained an “endorsement” which basically stated that the policy was only intended to provide coverage the types of conduct that traditionally did not fall under the sovereign immunity protection and that, otherwise, the County did not intend to waive its immunity. Based upon this clause, the Court found that the Bullards were prevented from recovering anything against the County.

While the Bullard case shows how harsh sovereign immunity can be, more and more governmental immunities are voluntarily purchasing insurance coverage or buying into municipal risk funds that act like insurance. If you have been injured or financially damaged by an entity that has done either of these two things, and coverage is provided by the policy it has purchased, you may find more success than did the Bullards. You should consult with a local attorney to determine the status of the particular entity’s insurance coverage. Maginnis Law can assist you in matters in the Raleigh-Durham area.

Our law firm offers free consultations to all potential civil litigation clients, including those with serious personal injuries. Many cases can be handled on a contingency basis such that you pay no attorneys’ fees unless and until we make a financial recovery for you. To speak with a Raleigh civil litigation attorney at Maginnis Howard, contact the firm at (919) 526-0450 or send a confidential email using our contact page. Our firm represents clients in and around the Triangle, including Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Morrisville, Cary, Apex, Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest.