Tort claims rarely result in lawsuits or settlements

The claims often come from people who have fallen, been in a car accident or suffered damage to their home or vehicle.

They are typically seeking some sort of reimbursement, saying the government is at fault for the damage they suffered. But rarely do they get awarded anything, and even more rarely do they go forward with an actual lawsuit.

For local governments, the filings are called tort claims, which are required to be filed within 180 days of an incident and notify the government that the person is considering filing a lawsuit.

Last year, more than 40 claims were filed against Greenwood, Franklin and Johnson County, and the majority were denied.

Often, the claims don’t have anything to do with the government they are naming and are sent only to be sure the person has followed the right steps in case they ever want to sue, government attorneys said.

For example, in Franklin, four of the six claims filed last year were related to incidents that happened either on a state road, such as U.S. 31 or Interstate 65, or on property the city doesn’t own, said attorney Lynn Gray, who represents the city of Franklin.

That is also true in Greenwood, city attorney Krista Taggart said. But the city has agreed to settlements in some recent claims, including paying out more than $1,300 in two cases where vehicles were damaged when stones were thrown by equipment used by city employees while mowing and $730 paid for damage to an airplane tire, according to the city’s list of claims.

When a tort claim is filed, local governments give the information to their insurance company, which then will investigate whether the government was at fault. That determines if the claim should be denied, or if the government should consider reaching a settlement, Taggart and Gray said.

Even if a claim is denied, the person still can choose to file a civil lawsuit, though that is rare, Taggart said. They can also choose to appeal the decision with the city board of works, which is also rare, she said.

One of the claims pending against the city was filed by the family of Charles Todero, who died last year after an altercation with Greenwood police where he was tased multiple times. Shortly after his death, an autopsy showed that liver disease and Hepatitis C had led to swelling in Todero’s brain and were the natural causes of his death.

The family filed claims against the police and fire departments and the city’s ambulance service, but no lawsuit has been filed, Taggart said.

While tort claims must be filed with 180 days of an accident, a person has up to two years to file a lawsuit, Gray said.

By the numbers

Here is a look at the number of tort claims filed against local governments in the last year and how they were resolved:

Franklin

Filed: 7

Denied: 7

Greenwood

Filed: 19

Denied: 15

Settled: 3

Pending: 1

Johnson County

Filed: 29

Denied: 21

Pending: 8

Author photo
Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.