Lawsuits Cost Memphis $2 Million

August 29, 2006

Memphis city officials say they’ve shelled out nearly $2 million toward settling at least five lawsuits this year.

The city attorney’s office, responding to The Commercial Appeal’s open records request, provided the information on the cases that have been settled out-of-court.

In January, the city reached a $225,000 settlement to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a former police dispatcher, who said she was sexually assaulted by her supervisor.

The city agreed in March to pay Hunt Construction Group $500,000 to settle a lawsuit the general contractor filed over the city’s alleged withholding of payments for construction of the Benjamin L. Hooks library.

Later that month, city attorneys signed off on a $300,000 deal with a Memphis man, who allegedly was beaten by a police officer outside a deli.

In June, the city agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the widow of James A. Branch, a Memphis sanitation worker who was killed last summer after the garbage truck he was riding struck a concrete light pole. The city also agreed to pay a $100,000 death benefit usually given to police and firefighters.

The city resolved a case in July involving a former firefighter recruit, who collapsed in a coma during training exercises. The city agreed to pay James Coleman $450,000 over four years as well as back pay.

City attorney Sara Hall says the out-of-court settlements were the best deals for the city, which could have lost millions more fighting the claims.

Hall said the city has about 1,000 active cases and is named in close to 250 lawsuits each year, though most are dismissed with little or no liability to the city.

Both city employees involved in the sexual harassment and police brutality cases have been fired and were eventually convicted in federal court.

Some City Council members have criticized the number of settlements.

“There’s been some pretty terrible cases,” said Councilwoman Carol Chumney. “There seems to be too many of them. It seems like (the city) needs to do a better job in risk assessment in terms of training and management.”

Councilman Tom Marshall agreed: “It’s a good news, bad news kind of thing. While I’m pleased with the outcome, I’m displeased with the root problem. We seem to continue making errors and it’s costing us money in the process.”

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