SW Legal Educational Publishing

Failure to Inspect for Workplace Dangers Does Not Impose Liability on State
Description Workers injured or killed in fire at chicken-processing plant in North Carolina that had never been inspected by state Occupational Safety agency could not sue under Tort Claims Act because the public duty doctrine holds that the agency operated for the benefit of the general public, not individual workers.
Topic Torts
Key Words Tort Claims Act, Public Duty Doctrine
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts A large group of plaintiffs injured in a fire at a chicken processing plant in North Carolina, and the representatives of the estates of the employees who died in the fire, sued the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Division for negligence. In its eleven years of operation, the plant had never been inspected. After the fatal fire, 83 citations were issued against the food processor for such things as blocked exits and inadequate fire suppresion systems. The lower court refused to dismiss the suit. The state appealed.
Decision Reversed. "The Tort Claims Act provides that the State is liable 'under circumstances where [it], if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the laws of North Carolina." However, under the public duty doctrine the defendants "owe no legal obligation to the individual plaintiffs.... their obligation ... to inspect workplaces in North Carolina serves the public at large, not individual employees." "Because the governmental entity owes no particular duty to any individual claimant, it cannot be held liable for negligence for a failure to carry out its statutory duties."
Citation Stone v. North Carolina Department of Labor, ---S.E.2d--- (1998 WL 57530, Sup. Ct., NC)
or
495 S.E.2d 711 (Sup. Ct., N.C., 1998)

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