Legal Caps May Block $37M Payout in Police Shooting

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The verdict of more than $37 million won Friday by the family of Korryn Gaines against Baltimore County police is one of the largest ever against law enforcement officers in Maryland. Legal experts question whether they will actually see all that money, the Baltimore Sun reports. Maryland’s cap on local governments’ liabilities in such cases — and the propensity of judges to lower large awards on appeal — make it unlikely Gaines’ relatives and her young son Kodi will see the full amount. The 23-year-old Gaines was shot and killed in her home in 2016 after a six-hour standoff with police. Her son Kodi, 5 at the time, was struck by gunfire twice, in the face and the elbow.

A jury of six women found that the first shot from the police officer who fired at Gaines was not reasonable and violated her and her son’s civil rights under state and federal statutes. The Local Government Tort Claims Act limits government’s payout in a lawsuit to $400,000 per plaintiff, or $800,000 for claims connected to a single incident. Baltimore County could be on the hook for more, because the jury found the officer violated the Gaines’ federal constitutional rights, the penalties for which are not capped by state law. A. Dwight Pettit, who has filed suits against police but wasn’t involved in this case, predicted an intense fight in the appellate courts. “You’re starting at least at $800,000 and it could be more if the Constitutional claims survive,” he said. “A lot of these jurisdictions have become emboldened by the cap. They don’t think they have real exposure. If these jurisdictions had to pay out these large amounts of money, these police brutality cases would go away very, very quickly.”

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