Bill would stop felons' lawsuits

February 19, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Bill would stop felons' lawsuits

ANNAPOLIS - After breaking into a house and robbing a family at gunpoint, an intruder trips down a flight of stairs while making his escape.

The robber later is arrested and convicted, and then sues the homeowner for the injuries he suffered in the tumble down the steps.

Not possible, right? It is in many states, including Maryland.

"In my view, it's just ridiculous," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

McKee has sponsored a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would prohibit violent criminals from suing for damages they suffered while they were committing crimes.


Such lawsuits could cause further anguish for someone already traumatized by being a victim of a violent crime, he said.

"I don't know how many criminals would win these cases, but just the cost and hassle the victim would go through isn't right," McKee said.

McKee insisted the bill is just common sense, but an attempt to get it passed last year ended when the bill was killed by the House Judiciary Committee.

McKee said he isn't exactly sure why the bill failed, but he speculated that a piece of legislation that would result in fewer lawsuits faced tight scrutiny on a panel dominated by attorneys.

The Maryland Trial Lawyers Association hasn't taken a formal position on McKee's bill, but it generally opposes any immunity legislation, said chief lobbyist Michael U. Gisriel.

Gisriel said while the bill might seem like a nice way to help victims of crime, the bill's passage would start the legislature down the "slippery slope" of approving further immunity measures.

"It's just not a good precedent to start down that road," he said.

Nonetheless, the 12-8 committee vote last year was close enough for McKee to try to sway a few more members of the Judiciary Committee. He is approaching opponents personally and writing a letter to committee members to solicit input and possible amendments.

McKee said that when he pitches the bill to other lawmakers they often say they cannot believe violent criminals can sue their victims.

"But in Maryland, they can do it," he said.

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