Local News

Wake County May Choose To Waive Sovereign Immunity In Some Cases

Posted October 1, 2003

— If you get into an accident with a Raleigh police car and it is the officer's fault, the city will pay damages just like any other insured driver, but if you get into an accident with a Wake County sheriff's deputy, you may be out of luck, but that may soon change.

Last month, Wake County Deputy

William Franklin James II

crashed his patrol car into a car driven by

Jessica Anderson

. James died in the incident while Anderson was injured and her car was totalled.

"We're saddened by that, but we're also saddened by the fact that a young girl was seriously injured, and we have a responsibility to take care of that, I believe," county commissioner Herb Council said.

However, under state law -- sovereign immunity, the county is immune from liability. The Andersons get no money for medical bills or the car.

"You lost your car. You spent 19 days in the hospital. As far as the state is concerned, that's too bad," said Glen Anderson, Jessica's father.

Raleigh has a very different protocol.

"The council was concerned specifically about property damage and looked at what its options were [and] how it could address those claims," Raleigh attorney Dorothy Leaply said.

In 1998, the Raleigh City Council voted to waive its immunity when the driver of a city car is at fault in an accident. Raleigh pays claims for property damage and medical bills. Last year, 393 claims were filed against the city and more than $300,000 were paid out.

"When you have thousands of cars on the road, you are going to have an accident occur. In those instances, we have the policy and we apply it," Leaply said.

Wake County commissioners are looking at changing the policy.

"It comes down to what's right and what's wrong, and I don't think government should be immune in situations like this," Council said. "To me if we're at fault, then we need to be paying."

Even with the exception, the immunity still protects municipalites from paying punitive damages, for example, for pain and suffering. The commissioners will vote on the issue at its meeting on Monday. If it passes, it would be retroactive to July 1, meaning the Andersons could benefit from the change.


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