If you live or do business in Maryland and have suffered personal or property damage caused by a state employee, the Maryland Tort Claims Act permits you to sue the government for that harm. By passing the act, Maryland's lawmakers acknowledged that government agencies are responsible for torts, or wrongful acts, committed by employees while performing their jobs. Citizens and businesses that want to file lawsuits against the state must comply with the provisions of this act.
The act was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 1981 to provide relief for citizens and businesses harmed by government personnel. Prior to the act, state agencies enjoyed immunity, or legal protection, if their employees on public duty injured third parties. Enacting the statute meant the state could waive that immunity and grant citizens consent to sue if state personnel had caused intentional harm. It also meant the state was agreeing to compensate victims of employee malpractices by paying money damages of up to $200,000.
Immunity for Whom?
The act grants immunity to state personnel only. That covers employees, officials and volunteers serving 15 state agencies. It also includes some judges, members of the board of elections, sheriffs and deputy sheriffs. The act does not apply to local government personnel who are protected under Maryland's Local Government Tort Claims Act.
The act established a rigid process for filing complaints. First, a claimant must submit to the Maryland State Treasurer a written statement known as a claim that explains the employee's misdeed. The claim, which must be filed within one year of the injury, must also provide the names and addresses of the parties involved and specify a dollar amount of damages the claimant is seeking. After investigating the claim, the treasurer will either permit it to continue or deny it "finally." If the claim is permitted, the treasurer can offer the claimant a settlement that resolves the matter. If the claim is denied, the treasurer has waived immunity, and the claimant has just two years to bring a lawsuit in state court or forever relinquish his right to sue for that particular incident.
Conditions for Waiver
Maryland courts have established two conditions for the state to waive immunity. One is that the employee was not acting within the scope of his public duties. An example would be a police officer who forcefully enters a home in search of narcotics without having secured a search warrant signed by a judge. The second condition is that the employee acted with "malice," or the intent to do harm. Thus, a police officer who physically abused a suspected drug dealer because the officer had a personal hatred for anyone selling narcotics would be found guilty of malice. If the treasurer concludes only the first condition is present, she will grant consent to sue the state only; if the second is present, the employee is personally liable.
- Michie's Legal Resources: Subtitle 1: Maryland Tort Claims Act
- Local Government Insurance Trust: Legal Issues & Topics
- "West's Maryland Law Encyclopedia"; West Publishing Group; 2011
- National Conference of State Legislatures: State Sovereign Immunity and Tort Liability; 2010
- Restatement of the law, second, torts 2d; American Law Institute; 2010
About Maryland Small Claims Court
Maryland civil cases seeking $5,000 or less in damages are heard in the small claims division of the Maryland District Court.
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