Civil Rights Groups Ask Court To Repeal LGTCA Damage Cap

An October 30 Baltimore Sun article reported that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Public Justice Center, and Caucus of African American Leaders have filed amicus briefs with the Maryland Court of Appeals asking the Court strike down the damage cap claims for local governments under the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA).  The briefs were submitted as part of a damages appeal in a Prince George’s County police shooting case.

Under the LGTCA, local government claims are capped at $200,000 per plaintiff and $500,00 for all claims arising from the same incident (excluding interest).  The civil rights groups argued that larger penalties are necessary to ensure justice in police brutality cases.  From the article:

The civil rights groups said the cap allows the government to “avoid its responsibility” and “severely undermines” the civil rights guarantees of the state Constitution.

“The government must be held fully accountable for the actions of police officers who abuse the power they are given,” said Anne Jagelewskia, a fellow at the Public Justice Center. “The words of the Maryland Constitution will ring hollow if there is no meaningful remedy for their violation.”

The cap has been challenged numerous times and upheld. The plaintiffs in the Prince George’s County case argued against the cap on constitutional grounds in 2012 and were rebuffed by the state’s intermediate appeals court.

Prior to the passage of the LGTCA, local governments enjoyed complete (sovereign) immunity under common law from claims brought in Maryland courts.   MACo has argued that the damage caps provide certainty and calculable risk for local governments so that they can continue to plan for and provide a wide variety of important public services while still allowing reasonable damage recovery for wronged plaintiffs.  From MACo’s testimony on HB 809 of 2014, which would have repealed the LGTCA’s notice requirements and damage caps for artificial turf field injury claims:

The LGTCA was created in 1987 in recognition of the unique role that local governments occupy in the provision of public services. It balances the ability of a plaintiff to assert a potential claim against a local government while providing reasonable protections to the local government in the form of damage caps and notice requirements. It also specifies that a local government is liable for the tortious conduct of its employees if they are acting within the scope of employment, meaning that a local government cannot assert governmental immunity in such cases. …

The bill also exposes a local government to increased financial risk and uncertainty by excepting artificial and synthetic turf field injury claims from both the notice requirement and the damage caps. As the bill’s fiscal note indicates, the bill would likely result in a potential significant increase in local government expenditures to cover the costs of increased litigation, number of awarded judgments, and liability insurance premiums through insurers like the Local Government Insurance Trust (LGIT). Such increases could also result in a local government curtailing or restricting certain services it currently provides in order to meet heightened risk management requirements.

The article also indicated that the mayor and City of Baltimore were among those filing briefs in support of the LGTCA cap.