John M. Kirby
Bynum v. Wilson County | Governmental Immunity | Proprietary versus Governmental Function
In Bynum v. Wilson County, decided by the Court of Appeals on June 18, 2013, the court addressed issue of governmental immunity.
In this case, the county leased a building for its main county office. Residents paid their water bill at this office. The plaintiff paid his bill at this location, and fell down the stairs while exiting the building. He sued the county for negligence. The county asserted governmental immunity. The lower court denied a motion to dismiss, and the county appealed.
On appeal, the court gave a thorough analysis of the governmental immunity doctrine. The doctrine protects the State (and counties) from suit for negligence, but only with respect to "governmental" versus "proprietary" functions. The court noted many of the North Carolina cases struggling with this distinction. The court wrote, "An analysis of these and similar cases reveals that the determinative factor to be considered in ascertaining whether a particular injury resulted from a governmental or proprietary activity is the nature of the plaintiff's involvement with the governmental unit and the reason for the plaintiff's presence at a governmental facility rather than the underlying tasks which the governmental entity allegedly performed in a negligent manner."
Based on several prior cases, the court concluded that "the operation of a municipal or county-owned water system is a proprietary rather than a governmental activity." The court thus ruled that the county was not immune from suit.
John Kirby has handled numerous cases involving claims against the State, counties, and municipalities, and involving governmental (or sovereign) immunity.