Get To Know Chad Ray Donnahoo

Get To Know Chad Ray Donnahoo


Chad Ray Donnahoo

Attorney and Shareholder, Brian Elston Law

Chad Ray Donnahoo grew up in Western North Carolina and graduated from Mountain Heritage High School in Burnsville. He attend UNC Chapel Hill and initially thought about becomming a history professor. After graduating with a B.A. in History, Chad attended graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill and got a M.A.T. in secondary social studies education. His favorite class was education law. Following a short stint as a public school teacher, Chad returned to Chapel Hill and graduated with his J.D.


  • B.A., 2002, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 2003, M.A.T., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 2007, J.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Bar Admissions

  • United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit
  • United States District Court, Western District and Middle District
  • United States Court of Federal Claims
  • All North Carolina courts
  • Cherokee Tribal Court
Chad Ray Donnahoo
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10.0Chad Ray Donnahoo




“Fairness. Justice. Honesty. These early values are my guideposts, still.”
– Chad Donnahoo

Law School Experience

During law school, Chad was a legal clerk for the United States House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary and spent much of his time doing work on the Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security subcommittee. After law school, Chad returned to the mountains – his home.

Asheville Attorney

Beginning in 2007, Chad worked at two law firms in Asheville mainly representing public schools, community colleges and local governmental entities. Chad was a noted attorney in his field and in 2018-19, was the Chair for the Education Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association. In April 2019, Chad got the rare chance to team-up with his best friend, Brian Elston and changed his practice area to workers compensation and personal injury. Since April 2019, Chad has been an attorney and shareholder at Brian Elston Law.


Commitment to Law in Western North Carolina

Having spent his entire life here, Chad brings with him an unwavering commitment to the people of Western North Carolina and making sure that his clients are treated fairly and equitably under the law.

Whether you were recently hurt in an automobile accident or you’re suffering from a workplace injury and need an attorney at your side to help navigate the choppy waters, contact Chad Ray Donnahoo at Brian Elston Law.


School Bus Accident Lawyers

School Bus Accident Lawyers






I was reading the newspaper the other day and read about a school bus crash involving a local high school volley ball team that occurred in McDowell County, North Carolina. Of course, our thoughts and prayers go out to the students, faculty, families and friends of those hurt by the school bus accident and hope that everyone is ok. Sadly, in our experience as school bus accident lawyers, school bus accidents happen frequently for a variety of reasons: mechanical problems with the school bus; the school bus driver’s negligence; or the negligence by a third party.  


Lawsuit against the school board

If it is determined that the school board’s employee(s) was responsible for the accident, the school board can be sued.







School Bus Accidents are different than other motor vehicle accidents because of the tort claims act

As former school board attorneys and now attorneys for the injured, both Brian and I have a considerable amount of experience as school bus accident lawyers, on both sides of the coin, when it comes to litigation involving school bus accidents. Check out “Our Results” on our webpage for more information about a recent Brian Elston Law case involving a school bus accident.

Below are some common facts associated with public school bus accident cases.


No. 1  Lawsuit against the school board.

If it is determined that the school board’s employee(s) was responsible for the accident, the school board can be sued. In a previous blog regarding school board law, I wrote that in most negligence cases, a school board is entitled to governmental immunity and is immune from damages in a negligence lawsuit. This general principle of governmental immunity, however, does not apply in the context of school bus accidents. In this context, the Board of Education has waived its immunity up to one million dollars because the claim is covered under the North Carolina Tort Claims Act and there is a specific statute dealing with school bus negligence claims. The one million dollars applies in the aggregate (meaning, there is up one million dollars to settle all related claims for all parties involving that specific accident). In normal lawsuits against a Board of Education, the lawsuit must be filed in district/superior court in the county where the school system is located. In school bus accident cases, however, the claim against the Board of Education must be filed in, and adjudicated by, the North Carolina Industrial Commission.

No. 2 Lawsuit against the Board of Education Employee.

In addition to filing a lawsuit against the School Board in the North Carolina Industrial Commission, at the same time, it is also possible to file a lawsuit against the Board of Education’s employee, in his/her personal capacity, in district/superior court. First, personal capacity claims are not subject to the North Carolina Tort Claims Act and are not subject to governmental immunity. Second, as I noted in a previous blog regarding school teachers, the State of North Carolina has provided professional liability insurance for public school employees who are sued in their personal capacities. This insurance is secondary; meaning, that this insurance will only kick-in after the first one million dollars has been paid by the Board of Education; however, in a school bus accident case that could likely involved several injured students, it is highly likely that this insurance could be triggered.

It is important to make sure that if your child or you are involved in a school bus accident case, you have knowledgeable and experienced attorneys who understanding the multiple layers and parties and can maximize the potential claim.

Can I Sue a Teacher

Can I Sue a Teacher






Students get hurt at school for various reasons. Sometimes, those reasons are nothing more than an unavoidable accident with no one to blame. Sometimes, however, those reasons might have something to do with the actions (or inactions) of your child’s teacher. In these situations, typical legal claims against teachers include negligence and negligent supervision.



Two questions I’m often asked:

1) can I sue a teacher on behalf of my child; and

2) even if I won a lawsuit, would I collect anything?




In North Carolina,
for all legal matters involving minors, the court
requires a Guardian
ad Litem (“GAL”)

No. 1 Can I Sue a Teacher?

The short answer is “yes”. If a teacher did something (or failed to do something) that caused harm to your child, then, depending on the facts and circumstances, it is possible that the teacher engaged in negligent behavior and could be sued in state or federal court.

In North Carolina, certain categories of governmental employees are entitled to public official immunity. This simply means that if their actions were not malicious, corrupt or outside the scope of their official duties, these employees cannot, at a matter of law, be liable for their negligent behavior. In the school system context, employees with public official immunity include school board members, superintendents, directors and principals. Teachers, however, are not entitled to public official immunity and can be liable for their negligent actions.


No. 2 Collecting a Judgment Against a Teacher?

It’s not a secret: teachers are overworked and underpaid. Even if you did win a lawsuit against a teacher, like most people, teachers probably will not have the financial resources to pay the judgment. However, since 2012, the State of North Carolina has provided professional liability insurance for all public school employees, including teachers, who are sued in their individual capacity (the “NC Insurance Policy”). If the teacher’s actions are not malice, corrupt, illegal or outside the scope of employment duties, the teacher will have insurance through the NC Insurance Policy that could be used to satisfy a judgment or to settle a claim.


No. 3 Can I also Sue the Board of Education?

Respondeat superior means “let the master answer”. This is a common legal principle that means employers can be liable for the actions of their employees. In the school system context, if a teacher engages in a negligent act that harms your child, you can sue both the teacher and the board of education since the board is the teacher’s employer. In certain circumstances, the teacher may have insurance through the NC Insurance Policy and the school board may have insurance through another, separate insurance policy. In this circumstance, there is potentially two pots of moneys that can be used to pay a judgment or settle a claim. For more information concerning suing boards of education, check out Conversations with Chad #1 – Governmental Immunity and Boards of Education.


No. 4 If You Win or Reach a Settlement, where does the Money Go?

In North Carolina, for all legal matters involving minors, the court requires a Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”). The GAL is a courtapproved, third-party that is solely responsible for looking out for the minor’s best interest and makes reports to the judge. In all matters involving monies going to a minor, all settlements must be approved by a judge. Any proceeds from a settlement or judgment will be held in trust by the clerk of court until the minor turns 18 years old.

Obviously, suing your child’s teacher is a major decision that requires a lot of thought. It can be a long, stressful process; however, it may be the last and most appropriate way to advocate for your child’s interest.

Governmental Immunity and Boards of Education

Governmental Immunity and Boards of Education






This “Conversations with Chad” deals with how governmental immunity impacts suing a board of education. As anyone who has ever stood in line at the DMV for two hours can tell you, most anything involving the government is never easy. Trying to get a governmental entity to give you money to compensate you for its wrongdoing is particularly challenging.


“The king can do
no wrong”

This old doctrine dates back many centuries ago to England and stands for the premise that
even if he did something wrong, the king should not have to pay money judgements to compensate his subjects. Obviously, North Carolina isn’t a kingdom and the Governor isn’t a king; however, this old English doctrine, known as “governmental immunity”, is still alive and well in our State.




When analyzing a potential legal claim against a board of education, there are several things to consider.

No. 1 Governmental Immunity.

Generally, when boards of education are engaged in governmental functions,
they are entitled to governmental immunity for tort and negligence-based actions. Governmental immunity does not apply if: a) the board of education is engaged in a proprietary function (i.e., performing a function not historically provided by the government that could be provided by a private business or corporation); b) for breach of contract claims; or c) for violations of state/federal constitutional claims.If a board of education is engaged in a governmental function (a likely event for most school systems) and the board of education has not otherwise waived its government immunity, it will not liable for tort or negligence-based actions.

No. 2 Waiving Government Immunity.

A board of education waives its governmental immunity for tort and negligence-based actions when it procures insurance through a company or corporation licensed and authorized to issue insurance in North Carolina. Governmental immunity is waived up to the amount of insurance purchased and only for those things covered by the insurance policy. For example, if the board of education’s insurance policy limit is one million dollars, a plaintiff will only be entitled to collect up to the policy limit. The board of education retains its governmental immunity for damages in excess of the policy limit.

A minority of boards of education across of North Carolina, particularly in larger, urban districts, have waived their governmental immunity through the purchase of commercial insurance.

No. 3 The North Carolina School Boards Trust.

Most boards of education in North Carolina are members of the North Carolina School Boards Trust (“Trust”). Understanding what the Trust covers can be complicated. Essentially, the Trust operates like a risk pool and participation in the Trust is not considered the purchase of insurance and does not waive governmental immunity.

The Trust itself provides $150,000 in “coverage” for each member-board of education. Remember, however, that this “coverage” is not insurance and the board of education has not waived its governmental immunity. This “coverage” is mostly for issues that do not pertain to claims subject to governmental immunity (i.e., employment claims, breach of contract, proprietary functions, etc.). In a garden-variety negligence case, if a student is injured and the student’s forecast of damages is below $150,000, the board of education retains its governmental immunity and is not liable for anything.

As a member of the Trust risk management program, however, member-boards of education also purchase excess insurance up to $850,000. The excess insurance is commercial insurance and is a waiver of governmental immunity. The easiest way to explain this is through the following hypotheticals:

Hypothetical #1. During recess, John, a six-year old student, is injured on the school playground. It is undisputed that John’s teacher failed to provide adequate supervision while he was on the playground. Through respondeat superior, the board of education is sued for negligent supervision and at trial, John is awarded a judgment in the amount of $275,000. Because the board of education is a member of the Trust, John’s recovery is limited, however, to $125,000. Remember, the board of education has retained its
governmental immunity for the first $150,000. The board of education’s liability for damages does not begin until the judgment triggers the excess insurance policy.

Hypothetical #2. Same facts as Hypothetical #1 except John has much more severe injuries and at trial, wins a judgment in the amount of $1,500,000. John’s recovery will be limited to $850,000. He is not entitled to the first $150,000. He is entitled to the full amount of excess insurance; however, once the damages exceed the excess insurance policy limit, the board of education retains its immunity because it no longer has insurance.

Based on how the Trust operates, it is not unusual for the board of education to file a motion for partial summary judgment for the first $150,000 of any potential recovery based on governmental immunity. It is important to carefully explain this concept to clients to manage their expectations. Depending on whether the board of education has insurance or is a member of the Trust can be a critical distinction in a damages analysis. An identical claim might be worth $300,000 in one school district but only $150,000 in a neighboring school district.

No. 4 Limited Claims Settlement.

In their respective policy manuals, almost all boards of education have policies dealing with limited claim settlements for lawsuits. This is especially true for boards of education that use the Trust. While boards of education will occasionally voluntarily waive their governmental immunity to settle cases, it is not a common practice and generally reserved for small claims. In order not to run afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause, boards of education must make specific findings for each case in which it voluntarily waives its governmental immunity to settle a claim.

No.5 Statutory Immunity.

Under NCGS 115C-524, boards of education can enter into agreements allowing non-school groups the right to use the school system’s real and personal property (e.g., an AAU
basketball league can use the school gym for a weekend basketball tournament). If the board of education follows its internal rules and regulations and enters into an agreement with the non-school entity, no liability shall attach to the board of education for personal injury suffered by reason of such use.

Whether you like it or not, with respect to boards of education, governmental immunity is the current law of the land. Understanding what the law is and how it works in practice is critical when analyzing lawsuits against boards of education.

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The Law Offices of Elston, Donnahoo, & Williams

The Law Offices of Elston, Donnahoo, & Williams, P.C., is a personal injury law office in Asheville, NC, dedicated to fighting for people who need it most. Our practice areas include personal injury, workers compensation, wrongful death, employment law, civil litigation, and more.

At The Law Offices of Elston, Donnahoo, & Williams, P.C. our success comes from our willingness to serve individuals and families all across North Carolina with our high-quality personal injury and workers' compensation advocacy. We know how difficult it is to suffer a personal injury and / or workplace injury and how hard this must be for you and your family. Our team of attorney’s are here to help you make the process as easy and stress free as possible. To learn more about what our firm can do for you, just give us a call or a text. If you would like to learn more about how our firm can assist with your case, we encourage you to contact us immediately. We are proud to offer 100% free, confidential consultations.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

The verdicts and settlements listed on this site are intended to be representative of cases handled by Brian Elston Law. These listings are not a guarantee or prediction of the outcome of any other claims.