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Litvack: Town can better learn from lawsuits

September 21, 2018

GREENWICH — Citing his concern about increasing insurance costs, Selectman Sandy Litvack wants the Board of Selectmen to become more involved in how the town considers lawsuits filed against it.

“We ought to know what the review process is — not the review of the settlement — but rather the review of the lessons learned and what we are implementing, if anything,” Litvack told Town Attorney Wayne Fox at Thursday’s selectmen meeting. “Maybe everything is perfect, but that would be the first time in life everything is perfect. … This is something we ought to be focusing on.”

Fox said he would be “delighted” to work with the selectmen and get whatever input they want to give on lawsuits.

First Selectman Peter Tesei mentioned the finance board’s “lesson learned process” in which Board of Estimate and Taxation members review in the aftermath of all litigation to see if changes can be made to eliminate future town liability.

Litvack said the Board of Selectmen should be included in that work.

“I think it would strengthen our processes to do what Mr. Litvack suggests,” agreed Tesei.

Fox also agreed, allowing the town’s system is a bit archaic but overall a good one.

“There is a process by which we review what happened, make a determination as to whether or not there were errors committed and if improvements can be made,” Fox said. “I think we have to take a look at each fact pattern because someone falling down on an icy sidewalk is different from an accident involving a driver who rammed into the back of a car and caused a serious injury with one of our trucks. We’ve made changes with that. We do improvements with that.”

Litvack said he raised the matter in response to rising insurance rates.

“The town is now faced with a material increase in our insurance premiums and a material increase in our deductability that’s several fold,” Litvack said. “That adds to the whole financial picture of the town.”

According to Litvack, the town’s liability insurance costs are scheduled to double by $800,000 to close to $1.6 million. Additionally, its self-insured costs recently went from $1.5 million to $3 million.

“At the end of the day the insurance companies are charging us a heck of a lot more than they were before,” Litvack said.

Fox said the town is not being sued more often than in the past.

“I don’t believe there has been any increase in litigation,” Fox told Litvack. “I would say to you in the 13 years I’ve been here we have always had a significant amount of what I consider serious litigation, serious in the sense of if we’re liable or not is one question but the potential exposure we have is a more important question.”

Over the past “many years” there have been a small number of verdicts decided against the town, Fox said.

“There have been significant settlements but those are cases in which we as a group decide we think it’s appropriate to resolve a case,” he said.

These have included both human resources matters and injury cases filed against the town in which negligence has been claimed. Fox praised town Director of Human Resources Mary Pepe for improvements to employee training and involvement, which he said have reduced the nature and number of cases.

“We’re never going to eliminate them,” Fox said. “There are always going to be those folks, sometimes correctly so, that feel they have been treated unfairly. But we have made improvements of a general nature to the process. I think that is more difficult than a case where someone fell on the sidewalk or there was an accident with significant injuries.”

Tesei noted any settlement by the town has to get approvals by the selectmen, BET Law Committee and full BET, and the Representative Town Meeting Claims Committee.

“This board is only one third of the triad addressing and considering settlement of litigation,” Tesei said. “When you consider all of the parties that are involved with settlement of litigation for the town, it’s 25 people. I think it’s often not clear that 25 minds, including a majority of this board and a majority of those other bodies, have to agree for the town to do a settlement.”

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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