Metro paying out hundreds of thousands in settlements

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 12:18am

They seem to just keep piling up: court settlements totaling large sums of money to resolve lawsuits slapped on Metro Government.

Last month, there was the $95,000 settlement to an inmate injured after a Davidson County Sheriff’s deputy yanked his "grill" from his mouth. Next came a $250,000 award to a woman wrongfully accused of forgery and arrested by Metro police. And most recently, the city agreed to pay $243,000 to a carload of individuals who sustained injuries after their vehicle was hit by a police car on Clarksville Highway.

Overwhelming majorities in the Metro Council — usually unanimous coalitions — signed off on each of the settlements, but some members have wondered aloud when it will end.

Taking the floor before voting on the $243,000 payment, Councilman Michael Craddock, an outspoken champion of fiscal restraint, said, “If any employee of this government hurts someone or causes damage to someone’s property, then the government needs to make that person whole.” Still, he couldn’t help noticing the recent trend.

“This council has approved about a half-million dollars for these settlements in just the last few weeks,” said Craddock, his voice rising. “We’re going to run out of money. We’re not going to have any money left in the self-insured fund if we keep this up.”

Craddock wasn’t far off with his math. In all, Metro has paid out $446,000 in settlements and judgments between Jan. 1 and March 31 of this year. When calculating totals for the fiscal year, which began July 1, Metro has appropriated $1.75 million in legal settlements. Figures do not include legal payments involving Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Most of the payments, according to Mike Safely, deputy director of Metro’s Department of Law, are for vehicular accidents and were settled prior to a lawsuit being filed. But other financial compensation came after trials, including a $750,000 payment to Teen Challenge, a faith-based nonprofit that sued Metro for violating the federal Fair Housing Act after the group was forced off its 13-acre property in Goodlettsville.

Safely said the dollar figure of legal settlements paid by Metro over the past year is “pretty normal,” pointing out that “two-thirds of it comes from three lawsuits.”

Asked whether Metro’s self-insurance fund — an annual pool of $1.5 million — is at risk of depleting, as suggested by Craddock, Safely said, “If we have a lot of $750,000 settlements, we would run into problems, but that’s unusual.”

“You’re always concerned whenever you pay anything out, but I don’t know that this year looks particularly different than years past,” Safely said.

As for the protocol for paying legal settlements, Safely said the Department of Law’s claims division investigates all liability claims prior to any recommendation to settle and considers the city’s financial interests above all.

“The things you look into are: What are the damages? What’s the court likely to do? Can we resolve it for a less amount than we think the court will award?” Safely said. “If we think we are liable ... then we try to reach a settlement with the plaintiff and, if so, it’s all contingent on it being approved by the council.” 

12 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 4/26/10 at 11:36

This is an era in American history where lawsuits are a means of income. I do not know whether or not an entity that deals with as many people and problems as a municipality can do it's job today without exposing itself to an inordinate amount of lawsuits and ultimately judgements and settlements.

I would think that that the tort system itself is as responsible for the lawsuits as is the local government.

By: idgaf on 4/27/10 at 3:51

The people were wronged so they deserved to be paid.

To bad the taxpayers can't sue over MCC something we didn't want but have to pay for anyway.

By: artsmart on 4/27/10 at 4:00

The part of this equation that continues to elude Metro is accountability. The good ol boys have found that turning a blind eye has worked for so long that things are now out of control. Once again if someone would review the lawsuits against Metro Schools several of the major problems flowed through the exact same people all of which did not lift a finger to do anything. The main concern was trying to cover their backsides. Unfortunately down at Bransford this was an acceptable solution.
It would not be a difficult issue for the City Council or the Mayor to investigate but there is absolutely no interest, it is not their money. It comes from the lawsuit fairy(ie taxpayers).

By: TITAN1 on 4/27/10 at 4:41

Too, bad we can't sue idgaf for being an idiot.

By: cmarcus45 on 4/27/10 at 7:04

richgoose -- I deal with Metro on lawsuits and claims. I assure you that Metro Legal pays little-to-nothing on poor cases. I have no doubt that the larger payments are to individuals with serious injuries and/or who have been seriously wronged. Metro does not pay lawsuits so as to permit them to become a "source of income." Your attack on the tort system as a whole is misguided.

By: on 4/27/10 at 7:22

all this get you to one conclusion, the government has non qualified personal or at list many of them, to limit the judgement it is not fair any other business wish to have limitation, but i belive a person can be iresposable when they work for someone specialy a institution that powerful, way the institution private or not to suffer because of temporary or permanent inacapacity of an employed, i think the British has a good law concerning equality if you sue me and ask $1,000,000 you lose i get the $1,000,000 from you , i dont care get insurance before you get in court,

By: concernedtaxpayer on 4/27/10 at 8:07

It was good having you in class.

And for those of you that do not know cmarcus45, I would listen to him because he knows more about this stuff than anyone else. Unless you are a attorney that deals with cases in Nashville.

By: richgoose on 4/27/10 at 8:32

I can say this for cmarcus. He has a bias large enough not to read with a great deal of comprehension.. I wonder what that bias is?

By: total_kos on 4/28/10 at 9:53

richgoose - Why accuse cmarcus of bias when all he is doing is providing you with the common sense explanation? artsmart - what in the world does the good ol' boy system have to do with someone settling a claim for wrongful injury. That would be like you running into my car and your insurance paying damages . . . would you claim MY good ol' boy system caused you to pay?

By: artsmart on 4/28/10 at 5:58

total: My point about the good ol boy system was that everyone has turned a blind eye to people not doing their jobs. It has caused those employees to get more and more arrogant and irresponsible to point that the problems are now more serious.
Because of that the lawsuits are now getting to be very significant. If people would have been held accountable in the beginning they would have straightened up or been gone. It has nothing to do with settling lawsuits. Although the statement by the City Attorney in our case telling us that the only way to tell if sexual assault caused damage was if suicide was attempted was rather remarkable considering we were talking about an 11 year old child. Those types of obnoxious statements are too common on the part of Metro employees are way to common in serious situations.

By: dargent7 on 4/29/10 at 7:34

Yeah, I think I need some part-time income.
I'll take my kid to the playground and have him fall off the monkey bars and sue for $100,000, settle for $20,000.
Take another kid to the Library, have her slip on a wet floor in the Ladies Room and sue for $250,000, and settle for $40,000.
I'll slip and fall in Court and settle for a couple extra grand, say $20,000.
Creatively, it's endless.
Only downsize is that it puts me in a whole new tax bracket.

By: on 4/29/10 at 11:02

Have the people guilty of these offenses been disciplined, fired, suspended, or punished in any way? They should be made to work and pay back the money they cost taxpayers with their barbaric behavior.