Lake Forest mayor, city attorney explain injury lawsuit after questioning from public – Orange County Register
Lake Forest Mayor Scott Voigts was recently criticized during a city council meeting, stating that he filed a lawsuit in 2019 and received subsequent payout for an injury he suffered due to an uneven section of the public sidewalk leading to it that he fell from his wheelchair.
Voigts and the city attorney considered the infringement lawsuit at the council meeting on Tuesday, July 20, after two Lake Forest residents asked why the lawsuit was not on the city council’s agenda when the mayor sued the city or he received the settlement in November 2020.
According to court records provided by city officials, Voigts received $ 135,000 for the 2018 incident in which he said he broke a thigh bone. An additional $ 15,000 was paid to his wife, who suffered emotional distress and physical injury following the incident that resulted in her missing work.
The lawsuit, filed in the Orange County Superior Court in January 2019, said Voigts fell out of his wheelchair after hitting a section of the cracked sidewalk in Pittsford Park in March 2018. The mayor said he was walking his wife at the time.
City Attorney Matthew Richardson said during the meeting that infringement claims like Voigts’ are handled through the city’s insurance provider, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, rather than through the city council or city attorney. The insurance authority is responsible for these cases, “in order to process, litigate or regulate their money with them,” he said.
Attorney Brian Kabateck, a Los Angeles-based trial attorney who served as president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Bar in 2018 and currently serves as chairman of the board of directors of Loyola Law School, said such settlements often go through some sort of approval process on a governing body like the city council in Cases like the mayor’s.
“It is common for you to have government agencies approving a settlement even if it is covered in whole or in part by insurance,” he said. A situation like the mayor’s case “would, in my opinion, require some level of disclosure that the city is dealing with to ensure that he is isolated from the decision-making process.”
But Lake Forest officials said the process by which criminal claims such as Voigts’ are investigated and settled in the city is common and has been in use for decades.
“We’re doing it like everyone else is doing here,” said City Risk Manager Keith Neves, adding that insurance workers are the experts at handling such lawsuits.
“They do this every day,” he said of the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority. “They want them to work through the claims, ask the questions, conduct the investigation, rather than have city workers. City workers do not have this experience. That’s why you hire insurance companies. “
Lawsuits that would be handled by the city attorney and discussed with the city council include claims relating to the city code or other legislation. In those cases, council members would be updated during a closed session, “and then communicated to the public,” Neves said.
In an interview, Voigts said that the review of his complaint came from critics who “feel that I am on the city council (because) I have no rights as a citizen”.
“I’m a Lake Forest citizen and have the same rights as everyone else,” he said. “If you slip and fall, or if I get injured at work, or if I get injured in town hall, I mean we have insurance to cover that.”
He said his claim had been “thoroughly investigated” by the insurance company and lawyers. Voigts said he withheld “very little” of the money he was awarded after paying the cost of two hospital stays and legal fees.
“There wasn’t a big settlement, and it didn’t make me rich,” he said. “If I had everything all over again, I would rather not have gone for a walk with my wife that day.”