PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, Md. (WJZ)–The outcome of a case under consideration by Maryland’s highest court could have a major impact on all lawsuits brought against local governments, especially lawsuits brought by families of those wrongly killed by police.
Derek Valcourt has the details.
When Manuel de Jesus Espina was shot and killed by a Prince George’s County Police CPL Steven Jackson in 2008, the officer was never criminally charged.
Instead, a civil jury found he acted with malice and awarded the victim’s family $11.5 million.
But thanks to a 27-year-old Maryland Law, Prince George’s County will only have to pay her $400,000 for his death.
That law—the Local Government Tort Claims Act, is now being challenged in the state’s highest court. The law limits local government liability to $200,000.
Supporters say that helps keep local government from going bankrupt and helps keep their insurance rates more affordable.
“It would be a true shame if our system of justice became hostage to whether or not insurance companies can make profit,” said Wayne Willoughby.
Wayne Willoughby is with the Maryland Association for Justice which opposes the cap along with the ACLU. They argue applying the law to serious misconduct cases like police brutality would have a crippling effect, making the payouts so small victims would have a hard time finding a lawyer.
“An attorney would have to think twice about taking on a case capped at $200,000 unless it involved something very simple like a police cruiser ran a red light or someone slipped and fell,” said Willoughby. Because the expense just isn’t worth it. The expression I like is the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.”
“And if you can’t get a lawyer to vindicate your rights then those rights are meaningless,” said David Rocah of ACLU.
The state’s high court heard arguments for and against the caps on Monday, they are expected to release the decision sometime before the end of June.
Some opponents of the caps want Maryland’s General Assembly to amend the Tort Reform Act later in the legislative session which opens tomorrow.
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