City of Austin paid millions to settle lawsuits in 2011 - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

City of Austin paid millions to settle lawsuits in 2011

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The city of Austin spent $2.8 million dollars in 2011 to keep lawsuits out of court.

Braden Bell, 27, is one of the people who sued the city of Austin in 2011.

"I was skateboarding on a city street and I was told to get on the sidewalk so I did," Bell said.

That is when Bell says Austin Police Officers Shawn Williams and Matthew Perritte cornered him.

"There was evidently some sort of misunderstanding between me and the officers," Bell said.

Bell said he was tackled to the ground.

"My collar bone was broken which I didn't realize until about a week afterwards," Bell explained. "It is not illegal to skateboard down the street."

A judge dismissed the case before a court date was even set. It was at this point that Bell contacted attorney Josh Fogleman.

"We made a determination that excessive force probably had been used, and we had a legitimate claim to sue a couple of members of the Austin Police Department for using excessive force," Fogleman said.

The defendants in the case were Officers Williams and Perritte. Because both officers are employed by the Austin Police Department, the city of Austin was also sued.

Fogelman claimed the city inadequately supervised or trained its officers and failed to discipline the use of excessive force.

"That job has to be done responsibly and when it's done irresponsibly, it's nice to know that there's a civil avenue that can be utilized to compensate those who are victimized by police wrong doing in certain circumstances," Fogleman said.

In this case the compensation was $13,000.

That is just one of 14 cases the city settled in 2011. The lawsuits range in everything from an Austin Water Utility truck rear ending another car (payout of $1700) to a discrimination lawsuit by two firefighters who felt they were better qualified for a promotion which prompted a payout of $850,000.

Then there was the controversial case of Nathaniel Sanders. He was shot in killed by former APD Officer Lenoardo Quintana in 2009. City Council members voted to pay his family $750,000 in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The 14 cases settled last year came out to a total of close to $2.9 million dollars.

That amount of money could have paid for six fire trucks or funded the Trail of Lights for three years.

"That year was higher than what we see on average," said Megan Riley the Division Chief of Litigation for the City of Austin.

Riley said her eight member team receives about 60-70 lawsuits every year.

"We look at each case as they come in the door and make an evaluation of the facts as are represented, the law at the time we receive those cases and we're constantly analyzing the cases as they proceed," Riley said.

However, Fogelman says suing the city is not an easy process.

"Cities are typically immune from liability for the wrongdoing of their employees," Fogelman explained.

The exception is a limited list of guidelines. For example, if a person's constitutional rights are violated, the city can be sued. That claim was made in the discrimination lawsuit.

The most commonly used exception is negligence. That exception got one woman $10,000 when she fell into a pit left uncovered by city crews.

Bell said the money he received went to pay for medical bills, lost wages, and attorney fees.

In settlements this year the city of Austin has paid out less than $1 million.

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