Pruett v. Bingham et al. – Government Contractors May Get Immunity

Government agencies are protected from civil litigation for personal injury by sovereign immunity, which is waived only in certain instances.

However, does this same immunity extend to contractors doing government work? cardashboard

It can. Look at the North Carolina Court of Appeals decision in Pruett v. Bingham et al. This was a case that stemmed from an awful, multi-vehicle car accident in Hendersonville, just 30 minutes south of Asheville, on I-26 West approaching the U.S. Highway 25 intersection.

It was about 7 a.m., and the morning rush hour was just beginning to commence. Plaintiff was driving his pickup truck in the westbound lanes of I-26. At the same time, one of the defendants, a commercial bus driver, was operating a commercial bus owned by defendant bus service. Suddenly, that commercial bus rear-ended a pickup truck in front of it. The pickup truck was then pushed forward and into the back of another pickup truck. As a result of the collision, the bus and the first pickup truck were pushed into the right lane of I-26. That’s where they slammed into plaintiff’s vehicle. 

Plaintiff suffered serious personal injury as a result of that North Carolina car accident.

In turn, he filed a lawsuit against the bus service and its driver.

In turn, the bus service and its driver file a third-party complaint against the pickup truck driver and a third driver, who was reportedly a contracted firefighter, operating a private fire rescue service vehicle at the time of the crash. According to the two defendants, that firefighter got onto I-26 and immediately merged into the far left lane. he then stopped his vehicle suddenly in the left lane in order to make a turn onto a section of the median. That meant all the vehicles behind him – including that pickup truck driver and the bus driver – had to halt suddenly. This, defendants said, was what caused the collision.

The firefighter responded that he was acting in the course and scope of employment and was responding to an emergency (a driver who reported chest pains) at the time of his actions. For this reason, the firefighter and his employer moved to dismiss the claims, arguing they were barred by governmental or sovereign immunity and by public official immunity.

Trial court granted the firefighting contractor’s motion to dismiss.

Defendants appealed, arguing the trial court erred because the firefighting contractor was not a governmental entity and thus not entitled to immunity, but even if they were, such immunity was waived by the contractor’s liability insurance.

The appeals court disagreed.

Case law has held that one cannot recover for personal injury against a government entity for negligent acts of agents/ servants while they are engaged in government functions. These are activities performed by the government and that are not ordinarily performed by private corporations. The test to determine whether a function is governmental in nature is whether it is an action taken for the common good and without the benefit of a profit. Activities only performed by the government are shielded from liability, while those that can be performed by either might be shielded, depending on the nature of the activity.

In this case, the contracted firefighting company and its employee were carrying out a governmental function, and therefore were entitled to immunity.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Pruett v. Bingham et alNorth Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Baker v. Wayne County – Duty to Maintain the Road’s Edge, April 29, 2016, Asheville Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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