The Maryland Legislature recently passed two bills that would increase the dollar amount that injured parties can recover from local governments and the State of Maryland in injury suits. The bills, recently approved by Governor Larry Hogan, also increase the amount of time a potential plaintiff has to notify the governmental entity of his injuries. If the injured party misses that window, his suit is currently automatically barred under the present statutes.
House Bill 113 (“HB 113”) increases the amount that can be recovered in tort claims against Local Governments. Currently, if a single person is injured by a local government employee acting within the scope of his or her employment, the maximum recovery is $200,000.00. If multiple parties were injured, the cap on total recovery is $500,000.00. HB113 increases the limits to $400,000.00 and $800,000.00, respectively.
House Bill 114 (“HB 114”) amends the Maryland Tort Claims Act. The Maryland Tort Claims Act covers the tortious acts or omissions of state employees. If a person is injured by a state employee, his or her recovery is currently limited to $200,000.00. Unlike the Local Government Tort Claim Act, there is no “per incident” limit; any number of plaintiffs can recover up to $200,000.00 for injuries arising out of the same act or omission. HB114 would increase the cap to $400,000.00 per plaintiff injured by a state employee.
As far as the timing requirement for notification, the Local Government Tort Claims Act currently gives injured parties 180 days to give notice of their injuries. If the injured party fails to notify the local government body of his or her injuries, the suit is barred. HB113 extends the notification window to 1 year. The Maryland Tort Claim Act excludes claims where notice was not given within 1 year. HB114 would allow courts the leeway to allow claims after this time period if the plaintiff can show good cause for failure to notify. The burden would then shift to the state government to show that the failure to notify prejudiced their defense.
These bills aim to increase the potential recovery for those bringing suit against Maryland’s state and local governments. Similar to many consumer and commercial insurance policies, the Tort Claim Acts serve as, essentially, “policy limits” in a claim. When these new laws go into effect on October 1, 2015, the amount of liability exposure that Maryland’s governments face will double.