Three years after a Honolulu jury awarded a California woman more than $3.6 million in damages for injuries she sustained when she fell on a Waikiki sidewalk, the City and County of Honolulu is on the verge of dropping its appeal and settling the case.
The Honolulu City Council will vote Wednesday whether to approve a settlement that would pay Tammie Stopp $960,900 over the next three years. The amount of the proposed settlement is revealed in a report from the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee provided to Civil Beat Tuesday.
The report was approved unanimously by the committee, which includes all nine Council members. So it seems likely the settlement will be approved by the full Council.
Stopp’s attorney, Michael Jay Green, told Civil Beat Tuesday that his client will actually receive more than $3 million in total because the city’s insurance company is picking up the balance of everything beyond what is essentially a city deductible.
The Department of Corporation Counsel did not answer questions from Civil Beat by press time Tuesday.
Green said he hopes the Council approves the settlement because the city’s appeal could drag on for months or even years, and there’s always the outside chance that the decision could be overturned. He recalled the adage that one in the hand beats two in the bush.
“Better to get it done than worry about somebody reversing your case,” he said.
Green said the settlement is also a good deal for the city because if the appellate courts ruled in Stopp’s favor, the city would have had to pay its $1 million obligation immediately rather than over three years. Green also said his client waived interest on the June 2008 award that would have added hundreds of thousands of dollars to the tab.
“It’s a reasonable settlement,” he said. “It’s good for the city and I think justice was ultimately served.”
Stopp suffered an injury to her foot in 2002 when she moved to avoid a cyclist on a Waikiki sidewalk and stepped on a broken tile. She’s confined to a wheelchair and walker, cannot work, will be on medication for the rest of her life and even requires care from a daughter who had to give up her employment, Green said.
Green said a city doctor testified at trial that Stopp’s subsequent medical woes were caused by unnecessary surgeries in California. But those surgeries — she’s now had more than 10 total and will need more in the future — ultimately became the city’s responsibility because medical malpractice is a foreseeable result from negligent behavior that causes injury, Green said.
Civil Beat posed the following questions to the Department of Corporation Counsel and will share the response when it’s provided:
Why did the city settle the lawsuit rather than pursuing the appeal?
How much does the city spend on lawsuit settlements each year?
When is the last time the city settled a lawsuit for this much?
The city’s annual Operating Program and Budget documents include a line in the executive budget that describes a “provision for judgments, settlements and losses.” The amounts expended in recent years are:
$12,000,000 (proposed budget)
$7,304,116 (“Judgments & Losses” only)
$4,200,000 (“Judgments & Losses” only)
$2,572,998 (“Judgments & Losses” only)
$3,800,000 (“Judgments & Losses” only)
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