North Dakota

quick facts

In North Dakota, plaintiffs will fare better with claims against political subdivisions than claims against the State. The North Dakota statute governing political-subdivision liability allows counties, towns, and cities to be held liable for injuries proximately caused by the negligence, wrongful acts or omissions of employees acting within the scope of employment, or “injury caused from some condition or use of tangible property.” 1 Fortunately, this includes vicarious liability for intentional torts. 2 The statute contains some exceptions, including for discretionary functions, the exercise of a public duty, and careful execution of a valid or invalid statute or regulation. 3 Damages for political subdivisions are subject to strict caps. 4

Employees of political subdivisions can face personal liability only for “reckless or grossly negligent conduct, or willful or wanton misconduct.” 5 A political subdivision and its employee may be jointly liable if an employee caused injury while acting within the scope of his employment in a reckless or grossly negligent manner or a willful or wanton manner. 6 Political subdivisions must indemnify employees “for any claim, whether groundless or not, and final judgment for any act or omission occurring within the scope of employment or office of the employee.” 7 This provision appears to mandate indemnification for employees up to the damage cap even for reckless or grossly negligent conduct or willful or wanton misconduct. 8

The State and its employees are less exposed to liability than are political subdivisions. This is because of a few important differences between the statutes governing state and political-subdivision liability. For instance, the state-liability statute includes more exceptions to liability, such as an exception for claims resulting from damage to inmates’ property or property belonging to patients of state institutions. Another exception exists for claims of injuries to inmates or patients of state institutions caused by other inmates or patients. 9 The state-liability statute also grants absolute immunity to state employees for “acts or omissions of the employee occurring within the scope of the employee’s employment.” 10