DES MOINES — The cost of settling claims and resolving disputes lodged against the state government for workplace misconduct, employee mistakes or other malfeasance topped $3.73 million in fiscal 2017, figures from the State Appeal Board show.
Last fiscal year marked the sixth time since 2000 that yearly state judgments and settlements were below the $4 million mark, which was good news for budget managers who have seen costs soar because of past problems relating to the ill-fated TouchPlay lottery program, film tax credits and state prison construction issues.
“This was a down year,” said Joseph Barry, a risk manager with the Iowa Department of Management who tracks data for the three-member board made up of State Auditor Mary Mosiman, State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald and Department of Management Director David Roederer.
“We didn’t have a lot of oddities this year,” Barry said. “We seem to have peaks and valleys with those. One year we have the TouchPlay, then we have the film thing, and then we had the prison construction stuff. This one was a fairly normal year.”
The state’s largest payouts occurred in years when payments were made to resolve claims tied to the shutdown of the Iowa Lottery’s TouchPlay program in fiscal 2008, a judgment stemming from the now-defunct state film tax credit programs in fiscal 2012 and disputes over construction of the new maximum-security prison in Fort Madison in fiscal 2015.
The bulk of the fiscal 2017 claims paid by the state involved medical problems at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which accounted for more than $2.6 million. Overall, settlements and judgments involving institutions under the Board of Regents topped $3 million.
State officials agreed to pay $1 million from the general fund as part of a $3 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit brought by Kevin Johnson and his family claiming that University Hospitals improperly performed a procedure in 2013 that left him with lower paralysis and kidney injury. A physicians’ group paid the remainder of the malpractice settlement.
A separate $500,000 settlement involving University Hospitals stemmed from a lawsuit brought by Barbara Gericke of Tiffin, claiming doctors failed to inform her of possible side effects from a procedure involving her leg that ultimately resulted in an above-knee amputation.
The state paid $50,000 of that settlement, as well as a separate $255,000 share of a judgment for the family of a man who underwent hip surgery and later suffered a stroke and died shortly after procedures were done to correct earlier medical mistakes.
The state also agreed to pay $75,000 to an Iowa State University student who lost part of a finger to a band saw she was operating as part of a school project in 2015.
In separate matters, the appeal board agreed to pay a $315,000 judgment — paid equally in increments of $157,500 by the UI Physicians group and from the state’s general fund — to the estate of Rebecca Martin, to settle negligence claims against the University Hospitals for a 2012 exploratory procedure that resulted in partial paralysis.
It also agreed to pay a share of a $150,000 settlement to the estate of Kent C. Carder, whose family claimed University Hospitals failed to properly treat his kidney cancer.
Records show that the state also:
• Agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit from the family of a patient at the Clarinda Mental Health Institute who choked to death while eating a peanut butter sandwich in 2013. Officials said Richard Rollins Meredith died after workers gave him the sandwich rather than pureed food that was ordered by his doctor.
• Agreed to pay $175,000 to settle a lawsuit involving a foster child who was bludgeoned with a brick and drowned by another foster child in 2013.
• Paid $239,595 for the attorney fees and expenses of Dennis L. Smith, a former Iowa State employee who claimed the school eliminated his position after he filed complaints about his boss.
• Approved a $950,000 judgment to settle a wrongful-death suit brought against University Hospitals by family members of Rollin Hoffert, with $500,000 paid by the UI Physicians’ organization and $450,000 from the state general fund.
• Agreed to pay a former University of Iowa student $75,000 after he suffered serious injuries in a 2012 fall from a climbing wall at the university.
• And agreed to pay a couple $50,000 to settle a lawsuit claiming negligence on behalf of a University of Iowa Cambus driver after Elizabeth Lester was struck in a crosswalk.
Mosiman, the board chairwoman, said the panel looks to avoid costly litigation where possible, which sometimes means negotiating settlements in situations in which the state was found to be negligent.
“It’s subject to what happens during the year,” she said of the overall payout. “A lot of them are emergencies, they are certainly out of the ordinary, but we do our very best in making sure that what we’re approving is the most cost-effective manner of getting through these emergencies.”