Bill limiting Idaho whistleblower lawsuits heads to House

March 5, 2020 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Whistleblower lawsuits against Idaho would be limited to $370,000 in non-economic damages under legislation that headed to the full House on Thursday.

The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee approved the measure that has no limit for economic damages.

Economic damages include such things as loss of income and legal fees. Non-economic damages include such things as pain and suffering, and emotional distress.

The measure follows a whistleblower lawsuit the Idaho State Police settled in 2019 for $1.29 million. In that case, a whistleblower claimed ISP retaliated against him because he testified against another officer in a court hearing.

The jury in 2017 awarded $30,500 in lost wages and $1.5 million in non-economic damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress to the whistleblower.

But a district judge said Idaho’s tort claim law capped judgments against public agencies at $500,000 per occurrence or accident, and reduced the award to $1 million.

The Idaho Supreme Court reversed that decision in May, saying the state’s whistleblower statute, which has no cap, overrides its tort claim statute. The two sides in September settled the case at $1.29 million.

Republican Rep. Greg Chaney said the legislation setting limits on non-economic damages protects taxpayers while also considering the equally serious responsibility the state had to protect whisteblowers, which can save the state money by calling foul on misuse of public funds.

“It is designed as a middle ground,” he said.

Opponents said the $370,000 limit was too low for large municipalities and wouldn’t dissuade bad managers from retaliating.

“I really think the whole notion of whistleblowers is very important for a lot of reasons, including economics,” said Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby, who voted against the measure.

Idaho settled a separate whistleblower lawsuit out of court in 2019 for $545,000. In that case, a former Idaho Department of Labor purchasing agent said the department retaliated against him and fired him for his efforts to stop employees from skirting purchasing rules.