Bonner County and Lawsuits
Lately there has been hysteria whipped up over the County and lawsuits. Unjustly, I might add.
At any one time, the County is engaged in 10-12 lawsuits or tort claims. That figure doesn’t seem to change much over the years. We get sued over things as small as a chipped windshield caused by a plow, auto accidents, planning and zoning issues such as CUPs, lot line setbacks and in the case of SilverWings, a suit alleging promissory estoppel among other claims.
Had we just caved into SilverWings, the County would be out $26,000,000. The County prevailed after 3 years of enumerable court actions, mediations and filings. Just last week the County was awarded $747,000 (that didn’t make the press) in attorney fees after a Federal judge threw out three of the four claims. The 4th claim is still winding it’s way through the courts.
Sometimes the county sues over P&Z violations such as junkyards, lot line setbacks or to protect the County’s interests (read the taxpayers interests).
In the case of employee terminations, the County takes those actions seriously. The County knows that no matter how careful they are, we will probably get sued. There are attorneys out there salivating to represent terminated government employees.
Before an employee is terminated there are as many as 8 people involved. Three Commissioners, our 2 civil attorneys, an attorney representing our insurance carrier, our HR Department and, many times, an outside counsel specializing in employee law.
After thoroughly investigating, discussing and analyzing the circumstances we make a decision. Not all employee actions result in termination.
Two recent terminations resulted in some high profile coverage in the newspaper. False and outrageous allegations were made by the former employees in the press. This is called “trial by Google”. As soon as the paper prints anything on the suit, it becomes a searchable item that, in the end, can taint the jury pool. Attorneys know this.
By the way, we have not lost any suits of any kind!! From time to time our insurance carrier decides to settle for a small sum because the cost of them litigating outweighs the small settlement. Attorneys also know this. The County has no say in this decision.
To close, the County goes out of it’s way to avoid lawsuits of any kind. It’s a time consuming and laborious process that takes away from the day to day operations of the County. The three Commissioners work with employees to avoid terminations and make commonsense decisions on County operations and land use to keep from putting the County at risk.
It’s important that County residents focus on the many positives in the current Bonner County government and not the one sided sensationalism created in the press over specious claims.