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City’s legal settlement tab tops $2.1M

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

An Albuquerque man was riding his electric mobility scooter along a park path in Northeast Albuquerque when he reached a point where the gravel surface transitioned to concrete. It was uneven, causing his scooter “to lose its balance and to fall to the bottom of the (adjacent) arroyo, taking (him) with it,” according to the man’s 2017 lawsuit that claimed negligent maintenance and operation of a city of Albuquerque-owned property.

The man “shattered a lot of bones,” and the injuries and resulting recovery were more complicated because he is disabled, his attorney Sam Walker said.

The city ultimately paid him $575,000.

It was among 26 cases the city settled in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, according to the latest litigation report Mayor Tim Keller gave to the City Council.

The city won two cases in the same span, the report said.

The payouts total more than $2.1 million – up from about $1.6 million the previous quarter and $478,340 the same quarter in 2018, according to city reports.

Walker said he “appreciated the way the city handled” the case. In addition to the monetary settlement, the city installed a railing along the arroyo to help prevent similar accidents, he said.

The other cases the city settled run the gamut.

A few center on high-profile police shootings, including $375,000 to the children of Mickey Owings, who was fatally shot by an Albuquerque police officer in March 2010. According to the report, the city also settled for $225,000 with the family of Jeremy Robertson, who was shot and killed by SWAT officers in 2014. And the city settled a separate case for $75,000 that included allegations of battery, negligence and excessive force by APD.

Three cases relate to city bus accidents.

Several involve injury claims as the result of falls or accidents on city roads and streets that plaintiffs allege were poorly maintained.

One woman received $22,500 to settle her suit against the city after she “stepped in a pothole” while crossing Central Avenue on First Street and suffered “personal injuries, medical bills, pain and suffering, mental anguish, impairment and disability and loss of enjoyment of life,” according to court records.

Another woman sued after tripping and falling at the intersection of Silver and Amherst SE due to a “defect in the street,” her suit states. The city report – which said she was 81 and had to have “wrist surgery and dental work” – indicates she received a $125,000 settlement.

A spokeswoman said Monday that City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. was out of town and unavailable for comment on the latest report. But in a written statement, the legal department said settlement amounts are highly variable depending on the specifics of each case, and the quarterly volume is also variable because there’s little consistency in the number of cases filed at any given time.

It said the city examines each case and considers the facts. The Claims Review Board – with seven members who include the city’s chief administrative officer, city attorney, personnel director or their designates – then determines how to proceed.

“The City of Albuquerque and its Legal Department has a careful process in place that’s there to protect the public and its resources,” the statement said.

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