If you receive NJCJI’s weekly email, you may have read Douglas Bergen’s reports in the Ocean City Patch: Ocean City Pays Lifeguard $50,000 in Secret Lawsuit Settlement and Ocean City Pays More Than $200,000 to End Firefighter Lawsuit.
The first of these settlements went to Michael Hamilton, 67-year-old lifeguard who failed the half-mile running portion of a requalification test. Hamilton acknowledged that he was planning to retire anyway. Nevertheless, he found an attorney to take his age-discrimination case against the City and share in the payout.
The second, which was resolved on September 29th (less than one month after Hamilton’s suit), was filed by former firefighter Mark McCulley, who dually served as the Department’s paymaster. McCulley’s situation is more sympathetic, but a taxpayer might wonder if sympathy should come with a $220,000 price tag.
Atlantic County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund insures Ocean City (which is part of Cape May County). The City has half a dozen other lawsuits which it will need to address in the coming months, either by settlement or trial. Douglas Bergen observes that Ocean City’s taxpayers “likely will bear the brunt of the settlement payments.”
When a municipality of fewer than 12,000 residents is willing to pay a quarter of a million dollars on two legal claims in order to avoid going to court – one of which was arguably ridiculous – it demonstrates just how high the stakes are for New Jersey’s 566 towns and cities. Civil justice reform isn’t a mere fancy of the private sector.