Senate panel votes 8-3 to kill controversial bill restricting punitive damages

April 03, 1992|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- One of the most intense lobbying campaigns in years ended yesterday as a Senate panel killed a bill that would TTC have restricted the award of punitive damages in Maryland.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee's 8-3 vote against House Bill 329 marked a hard-fought victory for plaintiffs' lawyers, labor unions and consumer groups, who had branded the bill special interest legislation for big business.

The measure would have been overkill, trial lawyers said. They noted that a February Maryland Court of Appeals ruling went a long way toward restricting punitive damages, which are awarded in addition to the money intended to compensate victims for their injuries.

the bill had passed, "there would have been egregious situations where companies could cause very real injuries and go unpunished," said Dennis McCoy of the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association.

The vote surprised the bill's supporters, who included a coalition of some of Maryland's largest corporations, as well as the Schaefer administration, the attorney general's office, and business organizations.

"Obviously, we're disappointed, but we understand the pressures that were brought to bear by the plaintiffs' bar," said lobbyist Paul Tiburzi, who represented the coalition of about two dozen large employers.

He said the bill's failure will leave Maryland in a position inferior to that of Virginia and other states.

The crux of the bill -- and its downfall -- was a provision called "vicarious liability." It would have shielded companies from punitive jury awards unless a plaintiff could prove that a manager knew of the behavior that caused the injury.

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