Tuesday, February 02, 2010, 11:32 PM

COA: Public Duty Doctrine and Governmental Immunity Do Not Protect City from Negligence Claims

Today the COA held that the neither public duty doctrine or governmental immunity could shield a city government from liability in a negligence case. The case is Beckles-Palomares v. Logan.

Plaintiff's son was hit and killed by Logan. Plaintiff sued Logan and defendant Moore for failing to trim vegetation on his property, which allegedly obscured Logan's view and contributed to the accident. Plaintiff also sued the city of Winston-Salem for negligence for allegedly violating various safety statutes and ordinances related to street maintenance and regulation of possible obstructions of drivers' vision and parking.

The COA found that Plaintiff's claims against the city were not barred by the public duty doctrine. The COA noted that North Carolina courts haven't expanded the public duty doctrine "to any local government agencies other than law enforcement departments when they are exercising their general duty to protect the public." Plaintiff had not asserted "law enforcement"-type claims against the city - i.e., claims based upon the City’s negligent failure to prevent the criminal acts of Logan or Moore or protect Plaintiff's son from them. Only one of Plaintiff's allegations, which dealt with Moore's failure to trim the vegetation on his property, implicated a negligent failure by the City to enforce its municipal code. Thus, the complaint did not allege a negligent failure on the part of a law enforcement agency, and the public duty doctrine did not apply to bar Plaintiff's claims.

The COA further held that N.C.G.S. § 160A-296, which requires municipalities to keep roads in safe condition and free from unnecessary obstructions, creates an exception to governmental immunity for the performance of a governmental function. Thus, the doctrine of governmental immunity did not apply to protect the City from an alleged negligent breach of its statutory duties. The COA concluded that neither the public duty doctrine nor governmental immunity barred plaintiff’s claims and there were genuine issues of material fact regarding its alleged negligence.

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