Article 21.

Miscellaneous.

160A-485. Waiver of immunity through insurance purchase.

(a) Any city is authorized to waive its immunity from civil liability in tort by the act of purchasing liability insurance. Participation in a local government risk pool pursuant to Article 23 of General Statute Chapter 58 shall be deemed to be the purchase of insurance for the purposes of this section. Immunity shall be waived only to the extent that the city is indemnified by the insurance contract from tort liability. No formal action other than the purchase of liability insurance shall be required to waive tort immunity, and no city shall be deemed to have waived its tort immunity by any action other than the purchase of liability insurance. If a city uses a funded reserve instead of purchasing insurance against liability for wrongful death, negligence, or intentional damage to personal property, or absolute liability for damage to person or property caused by an act or omission of the city or any of its officers, agents, or employees acting within the scope of their authority and the course of their employment, the city council may adopt a resolution that deems the creation of a funded reserve to be the same as the purchase of insurance under this section. Adoption of such a resolution waives the city's governmental immunity only to the extent specified in the council's resolution, but in no event greater than funds available in the funded reserve for the payment of claims.

(b) An insurance contract purchased pursuant to this section may cover such torts and such officials, employees, and agents of the city as the governing board may determine. The city may purchase one or more insurance contracts, each covering different torts or different officials, employees, or agents of the city. An insurer who issues a contract of insurance to a city pursuant to this section thereby waives any defense based upon the governmental immunity of the city, and any defense based upon lack of authority for the city to enter into the contract. Each city is authorized to pay the lawful premiums for insurance purchased pursuant to this section.

(c) Any plaintiff may maintain a tort claim against a city insured under this section in any court of competent jurisdiction. As to any such claim, to the extent that the city is insured against such claim pursuant to this section, governmental immunity shall be no defense. Except as expressly provided herein, nothing in this section shall be construed to deprive any city of any defense to any tort claim lodged against it, or to restrict, limit, or otherwise affect any defense that the city may have at common law or by virtue of any statute. Nothing in this section shall relieve a plaintiff from any duty to give notice of his claim to the city, or to commence his action within the applicable period of time limited by statute. No judgment may be entered against a city in excess of its insurance policy limits on any tort claim for which it would have been immune but for the purchase of liability insurance pursuant to this section. No judgment may be entered against a city on any tort claim for which it would have been immune but for the purchase of liability insurance pursuant to this section except a claim arising at a time when the city is insured under an insurance contract purchased and issued pursuant to this section. If, in the trial of any tort claim against a city for which it would have been immune but for the purchase of liability insurance pursuant to this section, a verdict is returned awarding damages to the plaintiff in excess of the insurance limits, the presiding judge shall reduce the award to the maximum policy limits before entering judgment.

(d) Except as otherwise provided in this section, tort claims against a city shall be governed by the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. No document or exhibit which relates to or alleges facts as to the city's insurance against liability shall be read, exhibited, or mentioned in the presence of the trial jury in the trial of any claim brought pursuant to this section, nor shall the plaintiff, his counsel, or anyone testifying in his behalf directly or indirectly convey to the jury any inference that the city's potential liability is covered by insurance. No judgment may be entered against the city unless the plaintiff waives his right to a jury trial on all issues of law or fact relating to insurance coverage. All issues relating to insurance coverage shall be heard and determined by the judge without resort to a jury. The jury shall be absent during all motions, arguments, testimony, or announcement of findings of fact or conclusions of law with respect to insurance coverage. The city may waive its right to have issues concerning insurance coverage determined by the judge without a jury, and may request a jury trial on these issues.

(e) Nothing in this section shall apply to any claim in tort against a city for which the city is not immune from liability under the statutes or common law of this State. (1951, c. 1015, ss. 1-5; 1971, c. 698, s. 1; 1975, c. 723; 1985 (Reg. Sess., 1986), c. 1027, s. 27; 2003-175, s. 1.)