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Statutory Damages Caps Constitutional?

It is important to realize that if you are injured by the negligent conduct of an government employee recovering money for your injuries will be difficult.  Both the federal and state governments are entitled to certain immunities from suit.  For instance, under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act lawsuits against local municipalities are barred.  There are certain exceptions to this suit bar, one of which is the operation of a moving vehicle.  Even if suit is permitted under the Act there is a $500,000 cap on the damages you are permitted to recover.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments about the constitutionality of statutory damages caps provided in the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.  The case in front of the court involved an injured plaintiff's $14 million dollar jury verdict that was reduced to $500,000 due to the cap.  The plaintiff tragically lost her leg when she was run over by a school bus.  Her attorneys argued that reducing her jury award by over 96% violates her state and federal constitutional rights (the right to a jury trial, the right to full redress for her injuries, to name a few).  

In the lower court the panel of judges upheld the reduction of the verdict in accordance with the Act.  However, Judge Cohn Jubelirer noted that the court was constrained by prior case law which held the Act to be consitutional.  Judge Jubelirer said that is the position of the General Assembly and not the court to enact policies into law, such as the statutory damages cap.

The decision of the PA Supreme Court will be one to watch and if overturned will bring much needed redress for those injured by the negligent acts of governmental entities.  

Source:  "Statutory Damages Cap Tops Supreme Court Arguments," by Max Mitchell, The Legal Intelligencer, May 6, 2014

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