NC House Passes Bill Shielding Drivers Who Hit Protesters

Apr 28, 2017

Credit Ely Portillo / Charlotte Observer

Stop me if you've heard this one before. The North Carolina House has passed a bill that is sure to bring controversy.

This measure shields drivers who hit protesters from lawsuits. 

Last year, in the wake of the killing of Keith Lamont Scott, protesters took over Charlotte city streets, even marching down sections of I-277 and I-85.

The often chanted "Whose street? Our street!"

All this caught the attention of Republican Representative Justin Burr of Montgomery County. "As we've seen, time and time again, as folks run out in the middle of the streets and the interstates in Charlotte and attempt to block traffic," Burr said as he introduced the bill. He wants to ensure "drivers don’t have to fear driving through Charlotte or anywhere in North Carolina."

Now there are many ways this could be done.

But Burr decided to go in a controversial direction with House Bill 330.

He explains the bill this way, "provides that a person driving an automobile while exercising due care is immune for civil liability for any injury to another if the injured person was participating in a demonstration or protest and blocking traffic."

Translation: a driver who hits, or even runs over, a protester on a street could be shielded from lawsuits by the person they injure.

But Burr wanted to be clear on one point. "Now this bill does not allow for a driver of a vehicle to target protesters intentionally. That obviously is not the intention."

In other words, if you were trying to get from point A to point B and you just happen to hit a protester, or more, while driving through a demonstration, you would be protected from civil lawsuits.

"We all know this is being done to try to make a point about protests," said Democrat Greg Meyer. He's just one of the lawmakers who saw a problem with this bill. "It is just going to embarrass us. There is no good reason to pass this bill."

Even those in favor of the measure saw problems.

When first introduced this bill was incredibly broad. Amendments followed. One to make it clear it was just for protesters on the street, an earlier version could have included those on the sidewalk.

Another amendment made this bill only pertain to protesters who did not have a permit to be on the street. But there's a problem with that, as pointed out by Democrat Pricey Harrison. "There is Supreme Court case law that there is a constitutional right to protest without a permit even in the streets when the protest is in rapid response to unforeseeable and recent events."

 

Just before the midnight curfew in #CLT the crowd is at the Square chanting. Doesn't look like they want to go home. #KeithScott

A post shared by David Boraks (@davidboraks) on

Sep 23, 2016 at 8:56pm PDT

Just like the events which Burr said spurred this proposed law.

And speaking of law, Robert Reives, another Democrat brought up that this bill isn't necessary because of existing state law about negligence. In North Carolina, you can only collect in certain circumstances. Here's how he explains it. "We're one of the few states that still has a contributory negligence instead of a comparative negligence standard. Comparative negligence means that if I'm somewhat at fault but you're more at fault you've got to pay me. Well, with contributory negligence if you're 99 percent at fault and I'm 1 percent at fault, I still cannot recover."

To all this, Republican Michael Speciale replied,  "We all know what this bill is about, come on." Speciale supports the bill. And he was a bit perturbed by those on the other side. And the YouTube videos he's watched of protesters in the streets. "I watch these things and I say oh my god. This idiot that just did this just nearly got hit by that car because they're just running out and grabbing and holding hands across the highway." Speciale added, "That's not protest, that's not legitimate protest and you got no right to block people. I think it's a good bill. I think it sends the right message."

He ended his floor speech by saying "all of this 'oh we'll be the laughing stock,' give me a break."

The bill has passed the North Carolina House. It now heads to the Senate.