Team Would Help Cut City Lawsuit Payouts

Seeking to reduce the amount the city pays due to lawsuits, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick has proposed creating a team of litigation investigators to help mount better legal defenses.

The investigators would go to the scenes of serious accidents, measure skid marks, take pictures and gather information about potential traffic-engineering problems that might later prove useful in court.

Chick, chairwoman of the council's Public Safety Committee, said she was prompted by the $27 million the city has paid out over the last two years in settlements and judgments for traffic-related lawsuits. She said she is especially piqued by a recent $9-million settlement in a case stemming from an accident involving a drunk driver.

"I'm sick of it and sickened by it," Chick said Monday during a safety committee meeting.

In addition, city Department of Transportation officials, at Chick's request, have proposed a 19-member special unit be created to study ways to prevent accidents and avoid lawsuits.

The unit would also train city employees to be on the lookout for hazards that could cost the city money, keep records and assist lawyers representing the city.

More than $1 million would be needed to establish the unit. Chick asked for more study before advancing the proposal.

City Atty. James K. Hahn supported the plan.

"It would help us out a lot," Hahn said. "You will never anticipate everything, but you can try to preserve as much evidence as you can at each scene."

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