Higher payouts on suits against government mulled | NevadaAppeal.com

Higher payouts on suits against government mulled

JOE MULLIN
Associated Press Writer

A Nevada lawmaker’s efforts to double a $50,000 cap on damages paid to people who win lawsuits against government entities ran into strong opposition Thursday from county and city representatives.

Under current Nevada law, citizens who succeed with lawsuits against a government entity or its officers can only be awarded a maximum of $50,000. That cap, which does not apply to lawsuits filed in federal court, hasn’t changed since 1979.

Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, who sponsored SB66, said that raising the damage cap was long overdue. Just increasing the cap to adjust for inflation would raise it to more than $130,000, Care said.

Sometimes governments or their employees cause real damage that the current cap can’t account for, said Care. He cited a 2006 freeway crash in Henderson in which four people died after a speeding Highway Patrol cruiser slammed into their car.

“It just seems to me that no matter how you look at it, $50,000 is an obsolete number,” he said.

Lobbyists representing counties and cities around the state told the Senate Judiciary Committee that raising the cap would be a strain on strapped budgets.

The city of Reno had 137 claims filed against it last year, said Nick Anthony, a lobbyist for the city. Those claims exposed the city to up to $6.85 million in possible damages, which would double to almost $14 million if the bill passes, he added.

Rose McKinney-James, a lobbyist for the Clark County School District, said that, like most local governments, the school district settles most claims seen as having merit for the amount of the cap. She added that if the cap doubles, it could cost the school district an extra $1 million a year.

“This is just a reality of our budget,” she said. “The district is self-insured. We would hope there would be some discussion that would recognize the impact on our budget.”

William Henry, senior counsel for the city of Las Vegas, said that money the city paid out in lawsuits was taken from parks and other beneficial services. Clark County paid out $850,000 in claims in the last fiscal year.

“Is it the position of the city of Las Vegas that the $50,000 cap should never be raised?” asked Care. “And if not, then when should it be raised, and by how much?”

“I can’t say what I would say five years from now,” said Henry. “As of now, it’s the position of the city of Las Vegas that it should not be raised.”

Bill Bradley, representing the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, was one of a few speakers who agreed that raising the cap was a long-overdue change.

“There has to a recognition by this body that a cap that has been set for 30 years does not even pay someone’s medical bills when they spend the night in a hospital,” said Bradley.