Is It Time to Raise the Tort Claim Caps?

Would you accept $29.96 per day for 16 years behind bars for wrongful incarceration?  You have no choice because state law says that is what your time, suffering and loss is worth.

If you have questions about governmental immunity, the damage caps or the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claim Act, contact your local Tulsa personal injury attorneys at Bryan & Terrill Law, (918) 935-2777.

If you incurred $300,000 in medical bills and were paralyzed from the neck down because a city bus driver failed to yield at a stop sign, how much would it take to make you whole?  Is $175,000 a fair offer knowing that you still owe $125,000 in medical bills and will reamin paralyzed for life?  You have no choice because state law says that’s what your injury is worth.

These questions arise because Oklahoma law caps damages against state and local government.  The Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act gives state and local government immunity from paying any damages above the cap.  The cap was $100,000 until the Legislature revised that figure in 2000.  The current limit stands at $125,000 for counties with populations less than 300,000, and $175,000 for injuries that occur in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties.

But how do these figures compare with other states?  The Tulsa World did a survey and discovered the following:

  • In Vermont, a death is worth $500,000.
  • In Indiana, the number is $700,000.
  • In Georgia, the Legislature has authorized $1 million.

Some lawmakers suggest that capping damages is a way to protect public resources, but this rationale ignores reality: when state or local government inflict devastating and costly injuries, and then refuse to pay the bill, innocent victims will likely turn to public assistance to pay the balance of the costs.  This means taxpayers in Tulsa County are paying for injuries inflicted by city workers from Ardmore– and that seems less than fair or equitable, and it does nothing to protect the public resources of citizens in Tulsa County.

A better solution requires the Legislature to raise caps or exempt certain damages.

With inflation, $125,000 in 2000 does not have the same purchasing power in 2013.  More importantly, however, Oklahoma lawmakers need to reevaluate the caps to more accurately reflect the economic reality of a loss.  Because a cap cannot accurately predict the extent of economic devastation, the Legislature should exempt medical bills, lost wages and lost future earnings from any cap.