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Idaho Supreme Court: No cap on awards for whistleblowers

May 29, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — There is no cap on how much money juries can award whistleblowers who successfully sue their employers, the Idaho Supreme Court said in a unanimous ruling.

Idaho’s tort claim law limits the amount of money that can be awarded to people who sue public agencies to $500,000 for each occurrence or accident.

But the Idaho Statesman reports the high court said last week that Idaho’s Whistleblower Act trumps the state’s tort claim statute, which means the tort claim cap doesn’t apply.

The ruling came in the case of Idaho State Police crash investigator Brandon Eller, who said ISP retaliated against him because he testified against another officer.

Eller sued the police agency in 2015, also claiming ISP retaliated against him because he objected to its policy requiring crash investigators to destroy all but the final drafts of their investigation reports.

After a nine-day trial in 2017, a jury agreed with Eller and awarded him more than $30,000 in lost wages and $1.5 million in non-economic damages.

A lower court judge reduced the award to $1 million, saying it violated the $500,000-per-occurance cap in Idaho’s tort claim law.

In its ruling, the Idaho Supreme Court said Eller’s case will go back to the Ada County court for a new trial to determine how much he should receive in non-economic damages.

Eller’s attorney, Erika Birch, said Eller would rather focus on his career with the Idaho State Police than go through a new trial, but she said his case helps whistleblowers across the state.

“This is a huge victory for all Idaho government employees... Our hope is that Idaho government agencies will start taking their responsibilities seriously, as Idaho juries have shown that they are willing to hold them accountable when they don’t,” Birch said.

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com

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