April 14, 2011

Ward KO's claims committee

After another tangle among councilors dealing with a damage claim by a city employee, Mayor Art Ward recently abolished the longstanding claims committee.
Ward said the panel isn’t needed because the city’s insurance carrier can sort out which claims should be paid.
City Councilor Kate Matthews, who has clashed with other members of the panel, praised the mayor’s decision to rely on insurance experts instead of having claims first go through a municipal committee.
Ward said the change won’t cost the city more money and will allow experts to deal with payment claims filed against the city.
Spurring the move was a controversy surrounding the payment of $627 to Noelle Bates, a legal secretary at City Hall whose car was damaged last fall in the parking garage.
Matthews said there were novel legal issues she wanted advice on before deciding the case that she could not get answers about because city attorneys, who work with Bates, stepped aside because of a potential conflict of interest.  Click here for the full story.

Here's the full statement that Matthews sent me yesterday:
The point I tried to make at last night's meeting (without bringing the claimant into it) is that she presented a novel theory of law in addition to the standard claim brought pursuant to the highway defect statute; as well, there is a legitimate legal question as to whether the highway defect statute would even apply in this situation, giving that the incident occurred in a parking garage, and not on what would traditionally be considered a "highway" under the statute. These were legal questions that go to the heart of the City's potential lability for this claim. They were never addressed, because the City attorneys all recused themselves from this matter, and because the Chair of the Committee, Ken Cockayne, was not interested in obtaining legal advice.
Notably, we did obtain other expert advice regarding the alleged "defect" - from our City Engineer and Building Official - and it is my understanding that both opined that the parking garage was not "defective" or in violation of applicable code. No defect means no liability for the City.
Further, we also sought the advice of our City's insurance broker as to how we should proceed. We were notified by them, in writing, that this claim and all others should be turned over to our insurance carrier.
Despite the advice of our City Engineer and Building Official that there was no defect, and despite our insurance broker's advice that this claim be turned over to our carrier for their consideration, my fellow colleagues on the Council Matters Committee nevertheless voted to recommend payment of the claim.
I abstained from this vote because I know that we were not in a position to make an informed decision. I suggested that it be turned over to the carrier as recommended, but was overruled. My colleagues' decision to recommend payment of the claim was arbitrary.
Frankly, I am glad that the Council Matters Committe has been disbanded by the Mayor, and that future claims will go directly to our insurance carrier. This will provide consistency in our claims resolution process, and will better protect the City from liability.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

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