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.”