Tips for Handling Your Eminent Domain Case Alone
As you read through this checklist, ask yourself:
"Would I rather have an experienced attorney complete these items for me?"
If the answer is yes, don't wait.
If you hire an attorney early on a contingency basis, it costs you the same. This also reduces the risk of making a serious mistake.
We've found many people think it might be easier to deal with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) on their own. If you're of that mindset, here's a checklist that might be helpful as you spend what could be the next several months (sometimes years) fighting with the NCDOT for a fair offer for your property.
- Determine whether a second opinion in the form of an independent appraiser is necessary or helpful to your case. (This may not be as easy as you'd think. Here's why.)
- Determine whether a local appraiser has the qualifications to perform an appraisal for an eminent domain case, and whether that appraiser would do well in front of a jury, if needed.
- Contact the condemning agency to obtain a copy of the plans as they relate to your property - and possibly nearby properties.
- Document every contact with the condemning agency, including names, dates, times, what was said, etc.
- Work with the condemning agency to schedule an inspection and appraisal of your property (without revealing any information about your property that could be potentially harmful to your case).
- Review the condemning agency's appraisal (often 50 to 100 pages) for potential inconsistencies and errors.
- Determine your property's highest and best use (the use that would result in the highest sales price).
- Determine whether the project plans will, or could harm your use of the property.
- Hire appropriate experts, such as land use planners, engineers, environmentalists, or other experts who could strengthen your highest and best use argument.
- Ensure your experts and appraiser are sharing information and that their opinions do not contradict each other.
- Carefully review any settlement documents to ensure you are not inadvertently selling more than what the condemning agency is claiming. (Permanent easements, in particular, can generally be more onerous than they may appear.)
If your case doesn't settle before condemnation (when the NCDOT files a lawsuit against you and legally assumes ownership of your property), you may also need to:
- File an answer to the condemnation lawsuit within the statutory period for responding, or face being legally capped at the agency's original offer.
- Research any outstanding liens, mortgages, or other financial encumbrances that may need to be paid out of the deposit or final settlement.
- Negotiate with any lien or mortgage holders so that the deposited funds can be disbursed.
- File a motion requesting that the court disburse the condemning agency's deposit.
- Conduct a "discovery" to request plans, potentially hidden appraisals, and cross-sections.
- Send interrogatories to the condemning agency to obtain official answers to any questions as to how the project will affect the property.
- Select a mediator for the court-appointed mediation, and schedule a date for mediation.
- Prepare any exhibits that may be needed for trial.
- Research case law to ensure that all the damages to your property are ones the law allows you to be paid for. North Carolina law is not written in favor of property owners, and there are many ways a property may be damaged that the condemning agency is not required to pay for.
- Select a jury, trying to avoid potential jurors that could torpedo your arguments.
30 Years of Combined Eminent Domain Experience
Our attorneys have more than 30 years of combined experience, and have tried many kinds of cases all throughout the state. We've handled complex multi-million dollar highways to minor sidewalk easements. Each project and each area of the state comes with its own unique set of circumstances - and potential problems.
Over those years, our attorneys have built relationships with experts throughout the state, from nearly every type of related field. Two of them used to work on "the other side" as lawyers for the NCDOT. They left because they saw too many property owners leaving good money on the table when trying to go at it alone, or because they didn't hire an experienced eminent domain attorney.
Since we've been in business, we've increased the average offer for our clients by 182%*.
Get a FREE Case Evaluation from NC Eminent Domain Lawyers
As you can see taking on the NCDOT can be quite an undertaking. If you decide not to do this on your own and you'd rather have an experienced NCDOT "insider" on your side, click here to contact our office, or call us at 1-877-393-4990.
*Each case is different and must be evaluated separately. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Average based on each case's increase as of 12/31/17.