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D.C. Agency Pledges Reform of Tort Settlement Process

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

D.C. Agency Pledges Reform of Tort Settlement Process

The District of Columbia agency tasked with settling tort claims against the city before they go to court was viewed for years by lawyers as an unhelpful stop-over. Now under new leadership, the Office of Risk Management is hoping to send a new message to the plaintiffs' bar: We're open for business.

Under D.C. law, anyone with a tort claim against the District has to file it first with the Office of Risk Management before pursuing a lawsuit. In theory, the agency was supposed to make an effort to settle claims if the city was liable, avoiding costly litigation. But plaintiffs lawyers say the agency has been plagued by delays and inefficiencies that made it difficult to negotiate settlements, let alone reach one—concerns that agency officials said they shared.

Phillip Lattimore III, the agency's director since 2011, said he's trying to turn things around. Last year, Lattimore hired the first ever attorney-supervisor for the torts program, with the goal of putting someone with litigation experience in charge and building better relationships with the bar. Late last week, the agency hosted its inaugural settlement conference, inviting a few dozen lawyers and claimants with open cases to come in for settlement negotiations.

The agency settled 23 of the 29 claims, for about $416,000, that were discussed during the conference. The cases represented a small portion of the agency's overall docket, but Lattimore said the event was meant to be more of a symbolic gesture to the plaintiffs bar.

"I'm very pleased," Lattimore said of the conference. "I hope this demonstrates to the bar that we're serious about adjudicating these settlement claims and doing it effectively."

 

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