Office of the General Counsel

Liability for Injuries

Can I be held personally liable for injuries that I may cause while I'm on the job, even if I didn't mean to cause them?

Yes, everyone is responsible for their own negligence or other wrong-doing that causes injury to another's person or property. However, if those injuries occurred in the course and scope of your employment, i.e. while you were performing your job, you may be protected, at least up to the limits of the State's insurance.

Note:  This article addresses liability and insurance issues for injuries that are NOT related to operation of an automobile.  For answers to frequently asked questions about automobile-related liability and corresponding insurance coverage, see the article entitled "What Policies govern travel?"

Do I need to purchase Liability Insurance?

If you are a medical professional you definitely need to purchase medical malpractice and liability insurance because you are not covered by the University's comprehensive liability policy. All other employees are covered covered up to $5,000,000, so long as the injury was not caused intentionally and so long as the injury resulted from the performance of your job, i.e., the injury occurred in the course and scope of your employment. Whether you think $5,000,000 coverage is sufficient is a personal decision for you to make, in consultation with your insurance agent. 

Additional information about the State’s insurance can be found at the North Carolina Department of Insurance Risk Management web page.

What is an employee's personal liability?

Personal injury or property damage resulting from the negligence of an employee or agent of the University will be processed under and subject to the limits of the North Carolina Tort Claims Act, the State's Liability Insurance and any applicable personal insurance (see above regarding insurance limits). The Office of the North Carolina Attorney General represents State employees for actions arising out of the employees' negligence in the course and scope of their employment responsibilities.

Note well, however, that an employee may be personally liable and will not be represented by the State for actions that are personal, intentional, grossly negligent or outside the course and scope of his/her employment responsibilities.

Who pays legal expenses?

The Department that employs the negligent employee is responsible to pay for any expenses in connection with the State's defense of an employee. If insurance applies, those expenses may be covered by the insurer. If the employee is personally liable, the employee is responsible for retaining his/her own legal counsel and for any and all costs associated with his/her legal defense.

Are students covered by the State?

As a general rule, a student will not be covered by the provisions for defense of state employees or by the University's liability insurance, unless, at the time of the incident, the student was acting in the course and scope of his or her employment as an employee or agent of the University or in an authorized volunteer capacity as described below. Students who are being paid by the University for work which is of benefit to the University, either in an assistantship or in work-study, or some other regular employment capacity, will probably be treated as though they were state employees entitled to coverage. On the other hand, students who are doing student teaching, internships, practica, etc. for course credit, are not considered to be state employees and thus would not be covered for injuries they cause while performing in those educational activities.

There are always exceptions to these rules, so please contact General Counsel if a question arises in this area.

Are volunteers covered by the State in any way?

Yes. In 1980, Governor Jim Hunt promulgated Executive Order No. 48 in which he declared it to be State policy to encourage volunteer work on behalf of state agencies. Part of that Order provides that volunteers enrolled in service to State agencies are recognized to be covered by the Tort Claims Act and the Defense of State Employees Act. This means that the State accepts legal responsibility for the volunteer's actions and will agree to defend and indemnify the volunteer in the same manner as if the volunteer were an employee of the State of North Carolina. Governor Hunt's Executive Order defines the term "Volunteer" to mean any person who provides goods or services to any state agency of his or her own free will and for no financial gain.  Thus, if a volunteer is sued for negligence which occurred "in the course and scope" of the volunteer's authorized activities, the Attorney General's Office may provide free legal defense to the volunteer. Further, any judgment rendered against the volunteer may be covered by the State’s liability insurance up to its limits of $5,000,000.