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North Carolina Vehicle Liability Laws

North Carolina Vehicle Liability Laws

North Carolina vehicle liability laws are different for state and local governments than for private citizens. North Carolina law requires that

owners of private vehicles must purchase car insurance to cover accidents for which they are liable. Driving a vehicle can be a dangerous thing. If a driver of a non-government vehicles hurts someone else, his insurance helps pay for the medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses of the injured person. If a North Carolina driver ignores his responsibility to buy insurance, his license can be suspended and he can be charged with a crime.

(North Carolina Vehicle Financial Responsibility Act). North Carolina law currently requires drivers to carry at least $30,000 in bodily injury liability coverage. Ironically, even though North Carolina recognizes that being responsible on the road requires liability insurance, it doesn't require that the state or local governments carry any insurance. Not only do many towns, counties and school boards not carry any insurance, but if their employees harm other drivers as part of their job, the state of North Carolina is not liable for the injury or damages.

Governmental Tort Immunity

North Carolina adopts a little known law called governmental tort immunity, which basically protects a governmental body from being sued without their consent. This rule is a holdover from the English common law concept of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity originally meant the king was immune from law suits. The assumption in sovereign immunity is that the king can do no wrong. A more practical modern reason for this law is that a successful lawsuit would have to be paid from taxpayer funds. This rule applies to the state as well as local governments (county and town governments, and even school boards). There are a few exceptions to North Carolina's governmental tort immunity law. For example, a state is not immune for civil rights violations brought under federal law. But for many cases, the government entity cannot be sued unless that entity "consents" to being sued. A government consents to being sued by purchasing insurance which would cover the type of accident in which a person was injured. If the insurance policy does not cover the specific type of accident, the state of North Carolina or any smaller government body such as a town or county is not liable.

North Carolina Appellate Court Ruling

As discussed earlier, although all citizens must carry insurance when driving, state and local governments do not. A recent case before the N.C. Court of Appeals, Irving v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, re-affirmed this principle. The Plaintiff, Tyki Irving, was at a stoplight when she was rear-ended by a Mecklenburg county school bus. The Court of Appeals ruled that sovereign immunity applied with regard to the local government school board. The school board had not "consented" to being sued by purchasing any insurance which would apply to the accident. When Ms. Irving's lawyers pointed out that all car owners in North Carolina must carry liability insurance in order to drive, the Court ruled that what applies to the citizens does not apply to the government. In this decision the North Carolina appellate court stated "The (NC Vehicle Financial Responsibility Act) does not apply to any motor vehicle owned by the State... or by a political subdivision of the state".

Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Therefore, since North Carolina state and local governments are immune from law suits under governmental tort immunity unless they purchase insurance, and because these governments do not have to buy insurance (unlike private citizens), it is quite possible that an injured person would recover nothing against a driver of a government vehicle who caused a wreck. Drivers could protect themselves by purchasing uninsured motorist coverage. This insurance provides coverage in the event that the person causing a wreck has no insurance. The coverage available in uninsured cases will depend on the amount of protection purchased by the insured driver.

For a review of the Irving v. Mecklenburg case, see NC Appellate Court Ruling Irving v. Mecklenburg.

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