Are there exceptions to the state tort claims act?
Neither the Commonwealth nor municipalities are liable for their employees’ intentional torts. While public employees may be liable for their torts in their personal capacity, they enjoy a judicially crafted “conditional immunity.” Public health care professionals are completely immune from personal capacity suits for negligence.
Commonwealth and Municipal Liability
In Puerto Rico, plaintiffs harmed by the government have available to them very limited negligence claims against governmental entities and only slightly more robust tort claims available against government officials in their personal capacities. Puerto Rico law abrogates sovereign immunity in certain instances of negligence. 1 For a plaintiff to prevail in a negligence action against the Commonwealth for the acts or omissions of an employee, agent, or official, the plaintiff must prove: (1) that the actor was an agent, employee, or official of the Commonwealth and was acting in an official capacity at the time the harm was caused; (2) that the employee, agent, or official was acting within the scope of their authority; (3) that the conduct of the employee was negligent and not intentional; and (4) that there was a causal relationship between the conduct and the harm. 2 While Puerto Rico is not vicariously liable for its employees’ intentional torts, it may be liable for acts of agents who negligently failed to prevent the intentional tort of another if the harm was reasonably foreseeable. 3
Damages actions against municipalities are governed by a separate section of the Puerto Rico code, which carves out a number of exceptions to municipal liability—including for claims involving intentional torts; discretionary functions; and compliance with a law, regulation, or ordinance, “even when they are null.” 4 Damages for claims against all governmental entities are capped. 5
Government Official Personal Liability: The Health Care Professional Exception
Generally, immunities for public officials sued in their personal capacity are judicially crafted and based on the demands of “public policy.” 6 Public officials also enjoy some statutory immunities, such as an immunity for public health care professionals sued for negligence or fault that occurred while the health care professional was acting “in accordance with his duties and functions . . . as an employee of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, its agencies, instrumentalities . . . and the municipalities.” 7 In the context of public health care, the Commonwealth has assumed liability and immunized public health professionals from personal capacity suits for negligence. 8