PRIMA Discusses County Government Immunities

At the recent meeting of The Public Risk Management Association of Maryland (PRIMA), Andrew Murray, Supervising Attorney of the Anne Arundel County Office of Law shared his insights and experience with immunities and tort claims in Maryland.  Mr. Murray reviewed the immunities available to local governments and their employees, including public officials.  He also delineated different elements of the Local Government Tort Claims Act, Cts. & Judicial Proc. Art. section 3-401 et seq.  PRIMA’s aim for the meeting was to equip the audience with ways to better address current or future tort claims.

The discussion included concerns about a potential increase in liability for local governments.  Raising of the limits for claims would allow plaintiffs to receive more damages from governments who do not successful defend against tort actions.  A change in the notice provisions could allow more plaintiffs to sue.

This past legislative session, MACo opposed a bill that would have authorized a court to award a prevailing party attorney’s fees and expenses in a civil action: (1) to enforce a right secured by the Maryland Constitution or Declaration of Rights; or (2) that has resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest.  HB 130 / SB 263 would have allowed a prevailing plaintiff to collect attorney’s fees based on a variety of factors and considerations but a prevailing defendant would only be allowed to recover fees if the court determines that the plaintiff’s suit was frivolous. The bill also specified that any attorney fees awarded under the bill’s provisions do not count against the existing liability cap for the Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA) and the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA).  MACo opposed the bill, arguing that it would lead to increased litigation, treated plaintiffs and defendants unequally, and would increase costs for local governments.  The bill ultimately failed.