22 Aug 2014
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County Pays $115.2M for Legal Settlements

One large settlement goes to a pedestrian struck by a sheriff's vehicle in West Hollywood.

Los Angeles County paid out $115.2 million to settle legal claims in 2011-12 including $1 million a jaywalking pedestrian struck by a sheriff's vehicle in West Hollywood, according to a report available Tuesday.

There were 819 new cases filed against the county from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. The county obtained 179 dismissals without any liability. It took 42 cases to court and won 24, a 57 percent win rate. It was also successful in 22 of 30 appeals.

The cost of litigation was up about 7 percent from the prior year. Lawyers attributed much of that increase to $8 million that the county had to pay to its insurance carrier.

County lawyers filed suit against Aetna to recover the cost to repair buildings damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The court found that the damage amounted to $13.7 million, but because the policy deductible was $20 million, a judge ruled that the county must reimburse Aetna for its $8 million in attorneys' fees and costs.

Another $3.5 million was paid as the final settlement of an almost 25- year-old judgment in a class action gender discrimination suit brought against the Sheriff's Department by Susan Bouman. That judgment cost the county $72.4 million in total.

Three other judgments in excess of $1 million were paid. Homeowners who claimed damage from a sewer leak received $1.2 million, another $1.1 million was paid to a county pharmacist who was not properly accommodated when assigned to a graveyard shift and an intoxicated pedestrian struck by a sheriff's vehicle while jaywalking across Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood was paid $1 million.

Big out-of-court settlements included:

-- $6.15 million to a worker who drove his vehicle off the Angeles Crest Highway and down a 150-foot embankment, is now a quadriplegic and alleged dangerous conditions on the roadway;

-- $3.6 million to a man who was paralyzed when he tripped and fell over an exposed support bar at a bus shelter; and

-- four medical malpractice suits: three labor and delivery cases totaling $9.3 million and a $2.3 million settlement related to a brain hemorrhage.

Nearly half of the litigation cost—$55.3 million—was spent on attorneys' fees and costs, with about 80 percent of that expense going to outside counsel rather than the county's in-house attorneys.

Though it was the second consecutive year in which more than 800 claims were filed against the county, the actual number of filings was down, though the trend varied by department. Public Social Services and Child Support Services saw a 50 percent reduction in new filings, while the departments of Mental Health and Community and Senior Services saw significant increases.

A discussion of the litigation report—scheduled for today's Board of Supervisors meeting—was postponed, along with a review of county risk management and hundreds of millions of dollars in workers' compensation expense.

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