The proposed legislation, JPR 11 – Tort Claims Acts – Limits on Liability – Law Enforcement Officers, is part of the draft Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021. The Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA) sets reasonable judgment limits on claims against local governments and their employees. The Act results from the balancing of policy considerations for waiving long-held sovereign immunity that would prevent individuals from suing local governments and ensuring court judgments, which are paid by taxpayer dollars, can be fairly satisfied without exorbitant cost.
The draft bill removes the liability limits on economic damages and establishes an annual increase on noneconomic damages for claims that arise from torts committed by law enforcement officers under the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA). Similar changes are made to the Maryland Tort Claims Act which establishes judgment limits for claims against the state.
As the timing of the hearings and release of the proposed slate of bills did not afford the organizations’ legislative committees the ability to officially review and take positions on them, the letter was submitted for informational purposes only and shared the organizations’ long-standing joint views on the issue on the LGTCA.
From the joint statement:
When the LGTCA was established, county and municipal governments relinquished long-held sovereign immunities from tort actions, balanced by the installation of certain parameters to protect taxpayers. The limit on liability payment is one of these important parameters. Tort actions against local governments are capped because taxpayer dollars are used to litigate claims brought against them. These tort caps reflect a longstanding and sensible policy compromise, reflecting those local governments’ indemnification of their employees, providing more assurance that resulting judgments can be fairly satisfied.
Local governments provide legal defense for their employees for tortious actions committed within the scope of government employment, which includes potential actions by law enforcement officers. The LGTCA strikes an appropriate balance between plaintiffs’ rights and protections for local governments and local taxpayers against exorbitant court awards.
The draft bill, JPR 11, was summarized in part as follows in the meeting materials:
Under the draft bill, these monetary limits do not apply to economic damages if the liability of a local government arises from tortious acts or omissions committed by a law enforcement officer. Also, the liability limit on noneconomic damages for such claims must increase by $15,000 for individual claims and by $30,000 for total claims that arise from the same occurrence on October 1 of each year beginning on October 1, 2021. The annual limits on noneconomic damages established under the draft bill apply to causes of action arising between October 1 of that year and September 30 of the following year, inclusive.
For more information:
Related coverage from Conduit Street: