County may lose group insurance over settlement

Deal allowed wrongfully convicted men to sue risk pool, which objects

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County has been put on notice by the Washington Counties Risk Pool that if it doesn't correct a violation of its agreement with the insurance group, it may be booted from its group coverage.

But what it will take to correct the issue isn't clear.

"Last Friday, the full board of (the risk pool) directed its president and executive director to issue notice that we are in violation of the interlocal agreement (to participate in the pool)," said Mark Wilsdon, county risk manager. "They want us to cure that, or they may pursue a future action. And what it will take to fix that is something we are still considering."

The county learned the pool's board of directors was considering the action last week in response to 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. The settlement also authorized them to sue Washington Counties Risk Pool for as much as an additional $24 million, or $12 million apiece.

The risk pool -- a coalition of Washington counties that receive better insurance rates by purchasing policy rates as a group -- declined to pay the $10.5 million, since the county wasn't a member of the pool at the time of the wrongful convictions. And the risk pool says the county's agreement to allow the men to sue the pool violates the interlocal agreement.

Wilsdon says the county is also waiting on a separate court proceeding that will rule on the legitimacy of a county's allowing a plaintiff to sue its insurance carrier in such a case. Wilsdon said the outcome of that case may have ramifications for Clark County.

If the board does boot Clark County from the pool, it is extremely likely the costs for county insurance will rise. Clark County currently pays $600,000 annually for liability insurance and $400,000 annually for property insurance, with a $500,000 deductible for both policies.

Wilsdon said he expects the board won't make an official decision on the matter until spring.