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Beall v. Holloway-Johnson: Sovereign Immunities in Personal Injury Cases

When a victim is injured as result of the negligence of an employee of the state or municipal government, and a lawsuit is filed, government defendants will often try to escape liability or limit liability based on what is known as the doctrine of sovereign immunity. While the actual statute may have a different name under state or local government tort claims acts, the doctrine essentially places a limit on the amount of money one can demand or be awarded from a government defendant in many situations.

1235172_beeThe reason these laws exist is because lawmakers felt that in order for a government to perform its essential functions, it must be able to operate without constant fear of lawsuits that could bankrupt the treasury. The rationale is that a government, unlike a private citizen or corporation, has no choice but to act. The government is responsible for providing various functions. For example, even during a major snowstorm, the government must send out plows and salt trucks. This is dangerous work, and it may result in personal injury or property damage. Since the government has not choice but to go out and work on the roads, a person should be limited in amount of money they may obtain in a lawsuit.

While this may make sense in the greater scheme of things, it does not seem fair that a government employee can negligently injure a private citizen and that citizen is not entitled to full compensation. For this reason, your Boston personal injury attorney may be able to get around the statute and get you a full and complete recovery.

It should also be mentioned that the doctrine of sovereign immunities only applies when the government is engaged in a sovereign function. This means something the government must do to fulfill its responsibility to the public. On the other hand, if the government is engaged in an activity to generate revenue, this is said to be a proprietary function, and the immunity doctrine does not apply.

Beall v. Holloway-Johnson, a case from the Maryland Court Appeals, involved an accident between a Baltimore City fully marked police cruiser and person riding his privately owned motorcycle. The motorcyclist died as a result of the collision, and his mother filed a lawsuit in the name of the estate.

In her case, plaintiff sought both compensatory and punitive damages from the city. The reason she was asking for punitive damages in her wrongful death action was because she was alleging gross negligence. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims. The court granted the motion for summary judgment with respect to the claim for punitive damages, and the case went to trial.

At trial, the defendant was found liable, and the jury awarded compensatory damages to plaintiff. The trial reduced the award to comply with the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA). Plaintiff appealed, and the trial judge concluded that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to consider punitive damages. The defendant now appealed, and court concluded the judge did not err in dismissing the claim for punitive damages.

If you are injured in an accident in Boston, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Beall v. Holloway-Johnson, January 16, 2016, Maryland Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Wilkins v. City of Haverhill – Massachusetts Supreme Court Weighs Slip-and-Fall Claim, May 23, 2014, Boston Personal Injury Attorney Blog