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Thursday, May 05, 2011

South Jersey Towns Sing a Familiar Tune

We’ve said it many times before: taxpayers lose when frivolous litigation is filed against government entities

Money that could be spent on maintaining municipal services ends up being spent on attorney’s fees, even when a plaintiff’s damages aren’t apparent or quantifiable. 

The Gloucester County Times reported over the weekend that several South Jersey towns are supporting legislation they say will “make lawyers think twice about filing any old lawsuit.” S-2404, sponsored by Senator Sean Kean (R-Monmouth) would cap the attorney fee awards that public entities are required to pay when a plaintiff receives a judgment. 

The Municipal Excess Liability (MEL) Joint Insurance Fund recently released a study which showed a dramatic cost increase among closed claims over the last ten years.  Fee-shifting laws often require the public entity to pay for the plaintiff’s legal fees as well as its own, leaving little disincentive for an attorney to file suit for small damages or unquantifiable cases. 

S-2404 would cap attorney fee awards that public entities are required to pay at $50,000 if the plaintiff is awarded $50,000 or less.  If the plaintiff is awarded more than $50,000, the attorney’s fees could not exceed that amount.  For the average New Jersey town, this is a lot of money!

There is no Assembly version of S-2404 currently. 

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