NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 18, 2009

California's largest cities and counties are facing tremendous budgetary issues, yet one cost that too often goes largely unnoticed is that paid out in verdicts, settlements and for outside legal counsel, says the Orange County Register.

A study conducted by California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse found that eight of the largest cities and nine of the largest counties in California spent $504.1 million to deal with lawsuits over fiscal 2007 and 2008.

CALA is a self-described nonpartisan, grass-roots organization dedicated to educating the public about the negative effects of lawsuit abuse and challenging those who abuse our legal system for personal gain.  CALA's recent study highlights the biggest abuses taking place on the local government level.  CALA's study does not cover all of California's 58 counties or 480 cities, but it did include more in this study than in its prior review, for 2005-2006:

  • Orange County wasn't the highest in costs on the county list, but it did spend $14.2 million on verdicts, settlements and outside counsel over the two-year period.
  • Sacramento came in at $22.2 million; San Diego at $3.66 million. Los Angeles paid out $190 million.
  • Among cities, Anaheim spent about $4.4 million over the two years, while Fresno spent $7.9 million and San Jose $3.6 million. The city of San Diego spent $32.5 million; the city of Los Angeles, $136.7 million.

The study says that "while many lawsuits do have merit, here are some recent examples of lawsuits that have taken hefty sums of money away from California cities and counties" and cites two cases:

  • The city of Fresno was sued for cleaning up the streets, which included the disposal of possessions of homeless people; plaintiffs were awarded more than $2.3 million, of which approximately $750,000 went toward attorney fees.
  • The city of Oakland will pay $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a man shot and paralyzed by police while robbing a church.

CALA has been a reliable advocate for changing laws in ways that sensibly limit the kind of lawsuits that can be filed and the level of damages sought.  The costs related in the group's latest study show the reason why, says the Orange County Register.

Source: Editorial, "Lawsuits take toll on cities, counties," Orange County Register, November 16, 2009.

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