Very interesting article here. This article is interesting because it analyzes different ways that governments can deal with the perceived problem of excessive tort awards that go against the government. Because our practice sometimes involves litigation against the government at all levels, this issue is important to us.
The issue here is the classic tension that exists in citizens when they find out that people are suing their government and winning large monetary awards. Naturally, while no one wants to admit to not wanting meritorious tortfeasors to have their day in court, people also feel like the money is coming out of their own pockets and they want their elected officials to somehow deal with that.
This article analyzed two possible ways of dealing with that perceived problem, which turned out to be a real example from the state of Washington.
One solution that Ms. Roe (the author) does agree with is that the best way to reduce massive tort awards flowing against the government is to implement policies and procedures that prevent the torts in the first place. This prevention could be achieved by proper training of government employees, spending money to replace hazardous conditions and equipment, and so forth. In doing so, less people will be injured, less people will take the government to court, and consequently, the government is on the hook for less money.
Most important about this perspective, is the simply yet profoundly important fact that you have less people being hurt by their own government’s negligence.
A different approach is to limit the liability of the government. The idea is that because governments have historically enjoyed various levels of immunity from lawsuits or enjoyed limits on damages awards, the state legislature can simply pass a law that imposes or revives such limits. On the one hand, this does achieve the same end goal: to decrease the money the government pays out in damage awards. But, is that really a win win? Probably not. Why? Because you still have injured tortfeasors that simply cannot have their day in court, or ones who are not really “made whole” by the damages they are awarded.
It seems more like an artificial and quick fix. Given that our concern as a Plaintiffs’ firm is to help people seek compensation after being injured by the government or otherwise, obviously, we believe the former approach to be the more well-reasoned one.
(This post is intended to be educational and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have questions or believe these issues affect you or your case, please contact an attorney).