City, insurer wrangle over suit

SANDUSKY City officials are in the midst of battling two lawsuits stemming from the 2003 sex crimes
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

City officials are in the midst of battling two lawsuits stemming from the 2003 sex crimes of a police officer against a 15-year-old girl.

The initial lawsuit, filed in September 2006, involves the now 19-year-old victim who is seeking more than $10 million in damages for sex crimes committed by former Sandusky police officer James Fitzpatrick. The victim, identified as Jane Doe in the case, seeks a trial by jury.

In the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Toledo, 12 claims of relief are outlined. The victim says her civil rights were violated and she suffered physical and psychological damages as a result of the crimes Fitzpatrick committed and the city's failure to properly handle the situation, according to court documents.

In June 2006, Fitzpatrick, now 40, was found guilty of four counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and sentenced to three years in prison. Eleven months later he was granted early release and is now on probation time.

The crimes occurred in summer 2003 when the victim was 15 and met Fitzpatrick in a police ride-along program. Fitzpatrick worked at the department from 1992 until his resignation in 2005.

Sandusky Police Department officers conducted a negligent investigation, including employing friends and coworkers of Fitzpatrick to look into the matter, the plaintiff alleges. Fitzpatrick and several current and past employees of the police department are being sued.

Meanwhile, the city filed a separate civil lawsuit against United National Insurance Co. in June after the company denied coverage for the defendants in the pending Jane Doe lawsuit, according to Don Icsman, city law director.

While Icsman said Fitzpatrick should not be and is not covered by the insurance -- he has hired private attorney Tim Dempsey -- the other defendants are not exempt from coverage.

"They (the insurance company) are saying the person that commits these kinds of sexual harassment is not covered," Icsman said. "The rest of our defendants should be covered."

The Jane Doe plaintiff's lawyers have been notified of the situation, Icsman said.

"They're well aware," he said. "We feel like it is absolutely necessary for the court to deal with it now. Obviously it impacts settlement negotiations."

According to court documents, the city alleges United National Insurance Company should provide in excess of $9 million in general liability coverage. The company asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed, but their request was opposed by the city July 29.

United National Insurance Company stepped in to cover the lawsuit, as a provider through the Buckeye Ohio Risk Management Association Inc., also known as BORMA, the city's umbrella insurance provider. The first $100,000 to $125,000 in costs are paid for by a local government pool, Icsman said.

Since the Jane Doe lawsuit is asking for damages in excess of that amount, United National Insurance Company should provide coverage on the remaining costs, according to Icsman.

Other cities in the BORMA pool are Huron, Willard, Bowling Green, Defiance and Napoleon, according to Ed Widman, city finance director. Sandusky has been part of the pool since the late 1980s, he said.

"I think the city feels we have adequate insurance that covers our needs but depending on how things turn out you never really know," Widman said. "Sometimes a party can get sued and the way it turns out it may not be covered by insurance. It's not always 100 percent apparent there's insurance for things."

A settlement conference was held June 19 between the parties of the Jane Doe lawsuit. No solution was reached, but several deadlines were set including a telephone status conference on Aug. 15.

"It's not settled at this point," said David Riepenhoff, attorney representing the city and its officials in the case.

Right now both parties are serving requests for information from each other, with the discovery cutoff date set for Nov. 30.

Defendants

* James Fitzpatrick, former Sandusky police officer convicted of sex crimes against victim

* Robert Runner, former Sandusky police chief and former supervisor of Fitzpatrick

* Gary Lyons, former interim Sandusky police chief and former supervisor of Fitzpatrick

* Kim Nuesse, Sandusky police chief

* Charlie Sams, Sandusky police assistant chief and former supervisor of Fitzpatrick

* Mike Frank, former Sandusky police lieutenant and former supervisor of Fitzpatrick

* Mark Volz, Sandusky police detective who investigated allegations of abuse of victim

* Helen Prosowski, Sandusky police detective who investigated allegations of abuse of victim

* John Orzech, Sandusky police detective who administered a computerized voice stress analysis test on the victim

Source: U.S. District Court documents