Legislative Commissionís Subcommittee

to Study the Statutory Limitation on Damages that may be Awarded

to a Person in a Tort Action Against the State of Nevada, its Political Subdivisions

or Certain Other Persons (A.C.R. 46, File No. 140, Statutes of Nevada 1999)

 

Mission

 

The subcommittee is charged with studying whether the current statutory limitation on tort damages against public entities should be changed.

 

Committee Proceedings and Major Issues

 

Governmental immunity, also known as sovereign immunity, is a legal doctrine that prevents a party from asserting an otherwise meritorious cause of action against a governmental entity or official unless the government consents to such a suit.† Like many states, Nevada has partially abolished governmental immunity but still limits certain types of claims and the amount of damages recoverable.

 

†Nevadaís basic statutes on governmental immunity are found at Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 41.035 through 41.039.† Damages are limited to $50,000 for the benefit of any claimant for a single occurrence by NRS 41.035(1).† There is no limit on the aggregate amount that can be awarded for multiple claimants affected by a single occurrence.† While damages are limited to $50,000 for any one claimant, in some instances the courts have allowed an individual to file multiple causes of action arising out of a single incident.† The effect is to allow up to $50,000 for each cause of action and thus, to a certain extent, expand the limitation on damages.

 

Nevada established the first limit on the amount of tort damages in 1965 at $25,000.† The limit was increased to $35,000 in 1977.† The present cap of $50,000 was adopted in 1979.†† Some parties maintain the $50,000 cap was not adequate to fairly compensate victims when it was established 21 years ago and, because of inflation, is even less equitable today.† However, concern has been expressed regarding the fiscal impact raising the cap may have on governmental entities, particularly the rural counties and school districts which may not have the tax base or funding sources to absorb increased settlements and judgments.

 

The A.C.R. 46 Interim Study was created to consider whether the cap should be changed and, if so, to what extent.† The committee is assisted by an eight-member advisory committee composed of legal representatives of the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association and attorneys for various state and local governments.† While no clear consensus has emerged regarding the need to increase the cap across the board, discussion has focused on addressing catastrophic claims and how to accomplish this without jeopardizing the fiscal integrity of any governmental entities.† The advisory committee submitted a list of potential options the subcommittee could consider if it determines that the cap should be modified.† Based on an opinion from the Legal Division indicating that the cap may vary by county population, the chairman proposed gradually increasing the present cap but maintaining a lower cap in financially fragile rural counties as well as for small entities within larger counties like general improvement districts.†† Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering would be capped, while medical bills and lost wages would not be capped.† This suggestion was coupled with a proposal that these fiscally weaker governmental bodies be permitted to seek indemnification from the State for payments that exceed their ability to pay.

 

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