Iowa Pays Fewer Settlements in FY2014

By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES — Fewer bad things happened across state government in the past fiscal year that resulted in Iowa paying settlements or judgments caused by employee error, misconduct or negligence.

That’s according to new data issued by the Iowa Department of Management that indicated the $2,875,257 paid to settle claims and resolve disputes caused by employee mistakes, workplace misconduct or other damages in fiscal 2014 was the lowest in five years — and the third lowest since fiscal 2000.

State records indicated the nearly $2.9 million worth of judgments and settlements authorized last fiscal year by the State Appeal Board included claims brought for medical negligence, personal injuries, employment-based discrimination, retaliation and wrongful discharge, and a prison offender’s request for a specialized Hindu food diet.

“Obviously it’s still a big number, but compared to the overall full year of claims and all the departments that are particularly impacted, it’s quite a down year compared to many of the years in the past,” said Joseph Barry, the state’s risk manager within the Iowa Department of Management.

“I think it’s the lowest one since 2009. Before that, it was clear back to 2000.”

Past yearly totals included a record $23.5 million in judgments paid in fiscal 2008, when the state settled a number of claims stemming from a legislative decision to shut down the Iowa Lottery’s TouchPlay program and nearly $13.2 million paid in fiscal 2012 to settle claims stemming from the now-defunct state film tax credit program.

Most of the state payout for the 12-month period that ended June 30 involved malpractice or medical-related claims brought against doctors at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics in Iowa City that resulted in more than $2 million in settlements.

In all, judgments and settlements paid via the state’s regent institutions totaled $2.19 million.

The fiscal 2014 settlement list did include a $225,000 payout to entities associated with a “Field of Screams” project that had registered for tax credits under the state’s film incentive program.

Created by the Legislature in 2007, the state film tax credit program provided a 25 percent tax credit for production expenditures made in Iowa, and a 25 percent tax credit for investors for projects that spent at least $100,000 in Iowa.

Other settlements included:

l $700,000 from the state’s general fund as partial settlement of a $1.75 million claim awarded to Dennis Musel, a Belle Plaine man who brought a medical negligence claim at UI Hospitals & Clinics relating to an emergency lumbar puncture that was conducted to rule out meningitis. Attorneys for Musel alleged that he suffered from weakness and decreasing reflexes in his lower extremities as a result of the procedure which led to paralysis. The University of Iowa Physicians paid the remainder of the claim, which included attorney fees.

l $750,000 paid from the state general fund as part of a $1.5 million award in a medical malpractice lawsuit claiming doctors at the UI hospital in Iowa City failed to diagnose and treat Terri Holliday’s diabetes insipidus at the time of her July 2010 discharge. The lawsuit alleged the treatment fell below the standard of care and caused Holliday to lose both sets of toes.

l $125,000 paid to Dianne Bascom, a former University of Northern Iowa employee who filed a lawsuit against the state and UNI alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation by three supervisors. State officials denied her allegations.

l $71,000 to settle claims of sex discrimination and retaliation brought by Melissa Renda, a former inmate at the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility who alleged sexual harassment in employment at her prison job. The claim moved forward after an Iowa Supreme Court ruling established that prisoners have civil rights protections in employment.

l $25,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Cliff Missen, a former tenant of a UI-owned house near the Iowa City campus. Missen alleged the university had been negligent in managing the house he rented, in that the house contained mold and was unfit for habitation — resulting in his suffering personal injuries and property damage.

Jeffrey Thompson of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office said the state has taken a more assertive approach to taking claims to trial and implementing strategies to workplace issues.

“We continue to work hard to be good stewards of the state’s resources and defend cases that need to be defended,” he said.

“I think there’s a cooperative effort within the state to evaluate these things and learn from things and try to keep our exposure to settlements and verdicts as low as we can keep it. It’s a challenge with the resources that we have.”

The fact that overall payouts for fiscal 2014 were down is encouraging and “makes us feel that we’re headed on the right path,” he added.

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@sourcemedia.net

Yearly general fund judgements, settlements paid by state government

Fiscal year Payout

l 2014 $2,875,257

l 2013 $4,282,556

l 2012 $13,176,313

l 2011 $3,780,323

l 2010 $6,854,958

l 2009 $2,552,812

l 2008 $23,530,913

l 2007 $6,741,962

l 2006 $6,221,012

l 2005 $8,526,313

l 2004 $8,252,713

l 2003 $4,231,783

l 2002 $4,146,646

l 2001 $2,920,520

l 2000 $2,163,541

Source: State Appeal Board

facebook twitter email alerts you tube hooplanow