North Carolina Appellate Court Reverses Dismissal of Wrongful Death Claim involving Government Immunity Dispute

Few things are more devastating than losing a loved one in an accident that could have been avoided if someone exercised proper care. In North Carolina, the estate of someone who died in a personal injury accident can bring a wrongful death claim to recover compensation for the costs associated with the accident as well as compensation for his or her surviving loved ones. The idea of dealing with a lawsuit during this already stressful and shocking time can be a lot to manage while other individuals are eager to seek justice for their loved ones. At Maurer Law, our Charlotte wrongful death attorneys are standing by and ready to help you determine the best route to asserting your legal rights after the loss of a loved one.

In a recent North Carolina Court of Appeal opinion, a man working as a pipe fitter died when he was attempting to reconnect water pipes to a portable chiller machine on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus. The device had been turned off for winter break. When he loosened a 13.1-pound metal flange on the water pipe, accumulated pressurized gas that had built up within the machine projected the flange directly into his head. He died at the hospital five days later as a result of his injuries.

His widow brought a wrongful death action against several parties including employees in the maintenance department and HVAC department for the school requesting compensatory damages and punitive damages. The latter category of damages is a category of damages designed to punish defendants for particularly reckless conduct. She alleged in her complaint that the defendants were negligent in shutting the chiller unit down and that it led to the explosion that killed her husband. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss on several grounds including lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction, and failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The defendants alleged that they were sued in their official capacities, which meant that their employer’s status as a public entity entitled them to sovereign immunity.

The plaintiff appealed and the appellate court reversed the lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit. Under North Carolina law, the sovereign immunity doctrine protects the state government from liability for negligent acts. The North Carolina Tort Claims Act partially waived this immunity and allows state claims against agencies in the North Carolina Industrial Commission, however. A plaintiff can bring a suit in civil court and in the Industrial Commission. Reviewing the allegations in the complaint, the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff’s civil complaint sought compensation from the defendants in their individual capacities and not as government entities.

If you or someone you love was injured and ultimately died as a result of the accident you may be entitled to compensation. Although monetary compensation won’t make the pain and hardship of the sudden and unexpected loss go away, it can help you cope with the financial impact of the accident particularly if high medical costs were involved. Call Maurer Law today at 1-888-258-1087 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation to learn more about your potential wrongful death lawsuit.

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