Public Duty Doctrine North Carolina

The general common law rule, known as the public duty doctrine, is that a municipality and its agents act for the benefit of the public, and therefore, there is no liability for the failure to furnish police protection to specific individuals. This rule recognizes the limited resources of law enforcement and refuses to judicially impose an overwhelming burden of liability for failure to prevent every criminal act. In Braswell v. Braswell, 330 N.C. 363, 410 S.E.2d 897 (1991), the Court also adopted two exceptions to the doctrine, first, where there is a special relationship between the injured party and the governmental entity; and second, where the governmental entity creates a special duty by "promising protection to an individual, the protection is not forthcoming, and the individual's reliance on the promise of protection is causally related to the injury suffered." Id. at 371, 410 S.E.2d at 902. However, our Supreme Court has held that the public duty doctrine, as it applies to local government, is limited to the facts of Braswell and will not be expanded to local government agencies other than law enforcement departments exercising their general duty to protect the public. See Lovelace, 351 N.C. 458, 526 S.E.2d 652 (declining to extend the public duty doctrine to insulate the City of Shelby from liability for the negligence of an emergency operator for the city); Thompson v. Waters, 351 N.C. 462, 526 S.E.2d 650 (2000) (holding that the public duty doctrine does not bar plaintiffs' claim against Lee County for negligent inspection of plaintiffs' private residence); Isenhour, 350 N.C. 601, 517 S.E.2d 121 (refusing to extend the public duty doctrine to shield a city from liability for the allegedly negligent acts of a school crossing guard). Subsequent opinions of this Court have followed the Supreme Court's holdings. See Cucina v. City of Jacksonville, 138 N.C. App. 99, 530 S.E.2d 353, disc. review denied, 352 N.C. 588, 544 S.E.2d 778 (2000) (holding that the public duty doctrine does not bar plaintiff's claim against the City of Jacksonville for negligently failing to repair a stop sign); Hargrove v. Billings & Garrett, Inc., 137 N.C. App. 759, 529 S.E.2d 693 (2000) (finding that the public duty doctrine does not shield the City of Louisburg from liability for injuries plaintiff sustained as a result of a dynamite explosion during construction of a sewer line).