Clark County could be dismissed from insurance risk pool

Friday's action stems from settlement of wrongful conviction lawsuit

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County might be kicked out of the Washington Counties Risk Pool on Friday, as the pool's board considers the ramifications of the county's recent settlement of a decades-old wrongful-imprisonment case.

In September, Clark County agreed to pay $10.5 million to settle a federal lawsuit brought by Larry Davis and Alan Northrop, two men wrongfully convicted of a 1993 rape and imprisoned for 17 years. Davis and Northrop each received $5.25 million from the county.

But the settlement also authorized them to sue Washington Counties Risk Pool for as much as an additional $24 million, or $12 million apiece. And that has the risk pool ready to vote on dismissing Clark County from the insurance program.

The risk pool is made up of a group of several smaller Washington counties that receive better insurance rates by purchasing policy rates as a group. But Clark County was not insured by the pool in 1993, when Davis and Northrop were wrongfully convicted. So the risk pool declined to let the county use the policy to cover the legal fees.

The plaintiffs disagreed with the pool's stance and sought an agreement in the settlement that allows them to sue the risk pool separately from the county. And when the county agreed, it breached its legal agreement with the pool.

"We went against the interlocal agreement (by agreeing to that)," said Mark Wilsdon, county risk manager. "And on Friday, the board is going to vote on kicking us out of the pool."

Wilsdon said, since the pool's inception in 1988, such a move has never been made by the pool's board. Further, if the board does boot Clark County from the pool, it is extremely likely the coverage rates for county insurance will rise, Wilsdon said.

Clark County pays $600,000 annually for liability insurance and $400,000 annually for property insurance, with a $500,000 deductible for both policies.

Upon hearing the news at Wednesday's board meeting, Clark County commissioners were left with the task of deciding what to do next. None of the three commissioners was on the board in 1993.

The consensus of the board was to write a letter stating that this was its first offense in its 11-year participation in the pool and offering an apology.

The letter will be delivered before the risk pool's board meets at 8:30 a.m. Friday in Kennewick.