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Mayor clamping down on settlements

A new executive order will require city agencies to report quarterly on lawsuits, claims, payouts and efforts to reduce liability.

January 11, 2007|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Criticizing "exorbitant" payouts in lawsuits against the city, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued an executive order Wednesday that gave his office more control of municipal risk-management efforts.

The city paid more than $37 million to settle lawsuits and claims last year.

Although the amount is down from previous years, Villaraigosa said he had been frustrated by some of the decisions, including a settlement proposed by City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo that would have paid $2.7 million to a firefighter who was fed dog food in his spaghetti as part of a firehouse prank.

The City Council approved the deal, but Villaraigosa vetoed it.

The executive order, Villaraigosa said at a City Hall news conference, was intended to "crack down on exorbitant liability payouts as a result of lawsuits against the city."

Currently, a risk-management unit in the city administrative office tracks legal claims and liabilities, and the city attorney also has a role in making recommendations on litigation.

City Controller Laura Chick, who said nobody has taken ultimate responsibility for managing risk, applauded the mayor's order.

"The public is justifiably frustrated with the big multimillion-dollar judgments and settlements and payouts that they see the city meting out," Chick said at the mayor's news conference.

The executive order would require all city agencies to appoint a high-level official as a risk manager and to report to the mayor's office every three months on lawsuits, claims, payouts and efforts to reduce liability.

The mayor then would be able to hold general managers accountable for their departments' track records.

"A significant portion of these lawsuits can be avoided through better management practices," Villaraigosa said.

The mayor's initiative appears to head off a proposal made recently by Delgadillo to establish a risk-management division under his office.

Delgadillo was not invited to the news conference. Nonetheless, he praised the order.

"Today, City Hall embraced the comprehensive, common-sense risk-management program I have been calling for since 2001," he said.

The order directs department heads to look at risk-management practices employed by the Los Angeles Police Department, which helped reduce payouts last year by $8.7 million.

In addition, the order requires each department to develop protocols with the city attorney's office to make sure both entities receive notices of lawsuits and claims, and to develop training programs to address problems that lead to liability.

The mayor said the amount paid out last year is enough to hire 370 police officers or repair 148 miles of sidewalks.

Chick recalled one case in which a lack of signs and road repairs caused an accident. The situation still had not been remedied more than a year later when the council voted to settle a lawsuit stemming from the accident.

Chick announced Wednesday that her office will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of risk-management efforts in the city.

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