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Gov. Lolo signs off on Tort Liability legislation

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has signed into law a Fono approved legislation which sets at $500,000 the ceiling for tort liability claims against the territorial government. The new law goes into effect before the end of this year.


ASG officials have testified in the Fono that American Samoa is the only U.S. jurisdiction without a cap on tort liability claims, and such a cap will result in savings for the government’s limited financial resources.


Past years of trying to enact such a measure into law in the territory failed to gain support in the Fono, with many lawmakers objecting to the original proposal of a $100,000 cap on lawsuits.


In his Sept. 23rd letter to the Fono leadership upon signing the bill into law, the governor noted that the current Government Tort Liability Act was enacted in 1967 at a time when the economic circumstances of the territory were vastly different than in today’s world.


“In the time since, the potential losses the government may face in a tort claim have grown exponentially, yet the government’s ability to satisfy a judgement for a significant claim has not grown at nearly the same pace,” Lolo wrote.


He added that tort claims have remained the burden of the government to serve all people of American Samoa, all of the time, and it must be able to continue to do so going forward, even in the face of a significant claim.


According to the governor, this cap on tort claims will provide a “greater degree of financial stability and certainly in the event the government should face potentially significant future claims.”


The most significant past claim against ASG was a court judgement following the 2002 fire that destroyed the old Laufou Shopping Center and the government was held liable for $6 million.


While the judgement is on appeal for the second time, ASG has already made a partial payment of $550,000, which was included in the FY 2013’s $5 million supplemental signed into law earlier this year in April.


Another partial payment of $500,000 is included in the fiscal year 2014 budget. “It is a payment made to demonstrate the government’s commitment to pursing steps to... fully liquidate the outstanding debt,” the governor said in the budget document.


(Also included in the FY 2014 budget is the $100,000 to fully liquidate the court judgement against ASG to Pacific International Engineering).


For the tort liability cap bill, the law becomes effective 60 days after the end of the current session, according to the Constitution. The 2nd Regular Session officially ends tomorrow.