Immunity for N.H. Public Entities Does Not Extend to Motor Vehicles

New Hampshire public entities, such as towns, cities, counties and school disctricts, are protected by various statutory immunities that limit when they can be sued for injuring someone.  There are exceptions to these immunity statutes.  RSA 507-B:2 allows claims against municipal entities for harms arising from the operation of “all motor vehicles”.  The municipal entity must be at fault for the operation of the vehicle or “by fault attributable to” the municipal entity.  New Hampshire public entities like to claim that the RSA 507-B:2 exception to immunity is limited to motor vehicles owned and operated by the public entity.  This narrow reading of the statute, however, unfairly attempts to avoid claims which are allowed by the law.

In the case of Chatman v. Strafford County, 163 N.H. 320 (2012), the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that RSA 507-B:2 permitted recovery against a county for negligently supervising the loading of a trailer.  The trailer and vehicle it was being attached to were not owned by the county.  The victim claimed that a county supervisor was negligent in directing the work, resulting in serious injuries.  The trial court dismissed the case based on the assumption that the harm did not fall under RSA 507-B:2.  The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed and specifically stated:  “we hold that the plaintiff’s claims ‘arise out of the County’s … operation of a motor vehicle’”.  Chatman, 163 N.H. at 326.  While the court did not specifically address the importance of the fact that the vehicle at issue was not owned by the county, it implied that liability is proper under RSA 507-B:2 when the a government entity does not own the vehicle in question but does have control over it.

Given the context of the Chatman decision, liability for negligently entrusting an automobile under the control of a government/public entity along with other negligent acts might be the basis for a legal claim under RSA 507-B:2 even when the public entity does not own or operate the vehicle.

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Do Pooled Risk Management Programs Provide Insurance to Public Entities?

In New Hampshire there is a law that immunizes public entities, like cities and counties, from many kinds of personal injury claims (NH RSA 507-B:5).  Most of these statutory immunities are waived to the extent the public entity has liability insurance (NH RSA 507-B:7-a).  In the 1980s the New Hampshire Municipal Association spearheaded an effort to allow Pooled Risk Management Programs [PRMP] to provide insurance coverage to public entities as an alternative to traditional insurance companies.  Since then, two PRMPs were created to provide coverage ranging from health insurance to property insurance called Primex and Local Government Center.  Both PRMPs provide contracts for liability insurance coverage that is the same as insurance sold by insurance companies.  While both PRMPs describe thier products as insurance to the public and the public entities that they cover, they deny that they provide insurance when defending personal injury claims in court in an effort to claim statutory immunity for most types of claims.  There are good arguments, that do not appear to have been reviewed by the trial courts that have considered the issue, that the liability coverage provided by PRMPs is RSA 507-B:7-a insurance that waives most statutory immunity provisions.  Some of those arguments were summarized in an article published in the Trial Bar News, Volument 37, Winter 2012.  A copy of that article is attached:  Arguments Why PRMPs Provide Insurance.