Taxpayers Threatened by Efforts to Eliminate Caps on Damages

The Commonwealth’s long-standing law granting sovereign and official immunity for the state, its officials and its employees and caps on damages for these entities will be reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In an opinion column published by the Pittsburgh Tribune-ReviewPCCJR Executive Director Curt Schroder highlighted the need for caps as a way to protect taxpayers from plaintiffs’ attorneys in search of jackpot verdicts.

The policy behind sovereign immunity aims to protect the state and its entities from excessive liability and financial burden, thus allowing them to fulfill their governmental functions effectively. Eliminating caps will open the flood gates for personal injury lawyers to raid the treasuries of state and local governments, with taxpayers left holding the bag. All it takes is one nuclear verdict (verdicts of $10 million or more) to wipe out funds set aside for critical government services. Allowing jackpot jury verdicts would mean less money for social services, housing and child welfare programs, fire and police departments, public schools, and more. It would also inevitably lead to higher taxes for taxpayers to cover the costs.

Earlier this month, the Court granted an appeal in the case of Freilich v. SEPTA, which challenges the constitutionality of the $250,000 cap on damages against state agencies. Personal injury attorney Tom Kline, one of the lawyers representing Freilich, has been on a self-described “22-year odyssey” to remove taxpayer protection caps in suits against state and local governments.  Attorney Kline argues that his fees and other expenses eat up so much of the recovery for the victim as to render the caps unconstitutional! (Seriously, you can’t make this up!)

More information on this issue and the Freilich case can be found here. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *