The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that a public community college did not waive its sovereign immunity with respect to a tort suit because no coverage was available. Edwards v. Bd. of Trs. of Haywood Cmty. Coll., 2016 WL 3584362 (N.C. Ct. App. July 5, 2016).
The claim arose from the college’s auction of the contents of an old sawmill, at which the claimant purchased various items. Several weeks after the auction, but before the claimant had retrieved all of the purchased items, a fire destroyed the sawmill and its contents. The claimant sued the college seeking damages for the destroyed property and based his claims on the fact that he was permitted to retrieve his purchased property from the campus only during the college’s normal business hours.
Critical to the court’s disposition was the question of whether coverage was available for the claims under either of two policies issued to the college because the college, as a government entity, waived sovereign immunity for tort claims only to the extent of insurance coverage. Under the first policy, the court found no “occurrence” because the claims were based not on an “accident” but on the college’s “intentional tortious act of restricting the hours when [claimant] could retrieve his purchases from the campus.” Likewise, the second policy’s requirement that a “covered cause of loss” be a “risk of direct physical loss” was not satisfied because the claimant did not argue that the college’s business hours created such a “risk of direct physical loss.” Accordingly, the court concluded that neither policy provided coverage and that the college’s sovereign immunity was not waived.