Local Government Liability Caps Decision Going Down to the Wire

A House and Senate conference committee met over legislation (HB 113) that would increase liability caps for local governments this afternoon but adjourned without reaching an agreement.  It is unclear when the conferees will meet again.  Whether some form of the bill passes or fails looks like it will go down to the wire as Sine Die is rapidly approaching.

As introduced, HB 113 would have increased the liability caps under the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA) from $200,000 to $500,000 for individual claims and from $500,000 to $1 million for all claims arising from a single incident.  MACo opposed the bill but dropped its opposition in the House after the House agreed to a reasonable $100,000 increase for both caps.  However, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee restored the bill’s original cap increases, increased the notice requirement under the LGTCA from 6 months to 1 year, and added language essentially neutering the “good faith” and “undue prejudice” exceptions that have been established by over 30 years of case law. Both MACo and the Maryland Municipal League have continued to oppose the Senate changes to HB 113.

Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair Robert “Bobby” Zirkin indicated his intention to not settle for a middle ground between the House and Senate positions in an April 10 Daily Record article:

The chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee said Friday he has no intention of settling for the mathematical middle ground between Senate- and House-passed legislation to raise the liability cap for state, county and local governments for negligent acts that injure people.

The Senate’s higher limit of $500,000 per harmed individual provides more appropriate  compensation than the House’s $300,000 limit, said Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, although he said even the Senate limit is still woefully inadequate.

“I am not going in there and saying ‘let’s split the difference’” at $400,000, Zirkin added. “That would be an injustice.”

The article also noted that not all Judicial Proceedings Committee members shared Senator Zirkin’s view:

Sen. Robert Cassilly, an opponent of the increased caps, said the greater financial exposure could discourage states, counties and localities from providing parks and other open spaces where people could get hurt.

“We don’t want them [governments] being bigger tort targets for plaintiffs lawyers,” said Cassilly, R-Harford.

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