After more than six years, Somervell County commissioners have settled a suit against the sheriff’s department after approving a $5,000 payment to the plaintiff’s insurance carrier.
Commissioners, in a 4-0 vote Monday morning, put the suit to rest after giving an OK for the county to make the payment following lengthy legal proceedings that stemmed from an arrest made by a Somervell County sheriff’s deputy in 2002.
According to County Attorney Ron Hankins, the $5,000 is a standard amount for deductibles on insurance payments in the event the county is sued.
The plaintiff, Gregory Shenk, filed a lawsuit claiming his civil rights were violated after he was arrested by former Somervell County Deputy Joe Martin.
“It (lawsuit) grew out of an arrest he (Martin) made on Mr. Shenk,” said Hankins. “There was an altercation. Mr. Shenk got an attorney and filed suit so it was turned over to the county’s insurance provider, which settled his claim against the sheriff’s department.”
A letter submitted to the Somervell County Attorney’s office, dated March 10, from The Wilber Law Firm, P.C. of Bloomington, Ill., states “as you are aware, we represent Trident Insurance in their subrogation efforts … against Somervell County for a $5,000 deductible owed for an excessive force coverage payment on or around Aug. 8, 2002.”
Hankins says the county was obligated to make the payment this week, several years following the court proceedings and after the insurance company informed county officials that they would be waiving the deductible payment. “There was some conversation between county officials and the insurance company. It was our (county’s) understanding that they were going to waive the payment. This just came up about a month ago and revealed that they had turned it over to another company to collect the deductible.”
Hankins says the court’s approval to make the $5,000 payment was “basically to clean up the situation.”
At the time of the incident involving Shenk and Deputy Martin, Trident Insurance was the county’s provider, said Hankins. “This goes back six years. It happened in 2002 and probably was settled by 2003. Our understanding was that there was nothing in writing. They were going to waive us paying the deductible. Somehow, that didn’t happen. We were then contacted by another company asking for the money, so we had to take it back to (commissioners) court.”
Hankins said the payment was initially approved by county leaders and a check was cut, but later his office was informed that the payment was not necessary which led to the check being voided.
“Now we find out they want it (deductible payment). We don’t have anyone contesting that any longer,” said Hankins. “I told them it was going to take some time to get the check cut, so they gave us until the end of March.”
Hankins says the overall settlement amount was approximately $70,000.
“When we have a law suit and a claim made, they negotiate and say we’ve reached a settlement and this is what we’re contemplating paying,” Hankins said. “They didn’t do that in this case - they didn’t contact us. Someone, I guess, who didn’t have the authority to waive the payment of the deductible did, and we didn’t receive notice. So, here we are.”