Special Reports

City may lack funds to handle Brame liability

Tacoma has only about $1 million in its contingency fund for liability claims and might have to ask voters to pay a huge jury award or settlement in the David Brame case, a senior city official said Wednesday.

Figures as large as the $75 million cited in a wrongful death claim filed Monday against the city by the family of Crystal Brame "are an anomaly," budget director Diane Supler said.

Most cities never see claims that large, she added.

The city's self-insurance pool would pay the first $3 million of any settlement or jury award, and its excess liability insurance would pick up the next $5 million, communications director Carol Mathewson has said.

But if the city were hit with a judgment beyond that initial $8 million, only about $1 million is left in the contingency fund, Supler said.

After that, the city would have to ask voters to approve the funds to pay a large award - or work out some sort of time payments, she added.

The claim brought by Crystal Brame's family contends the city was responsible for her death because officials gave Tacoma Police Chief David Brame power and a gun when they knew or should have known he was dangerous.

David Brame fatally shot Crystal Brame and then himself April 26 in the midst of a contentious divorce.

In her divorce proceedings, Crystal Brame had alleged that her husband threatened to choke her and pointed his gun at her and said, "Accidents happen."

The $75 million the family is seeking nearly equals 45 percent of the city's $167.9 million general fund budget for a year. That pays for city services, from police officers and firefighters to streetlights, park maintenance and senior center operations.

Six months ago, the city cut about $12 million in programs and raised some taxes and fees to balance its $337 million, two-year general fund budget.

Mayor Bill Baarsma said Wednesday that city officials are hiring an outside legal firm to represent the city concerning the claim, the first step the family must take toward filing a lawsuit.

Beyond that, he wouldn't comment on the matter.

Paul Luvera, who is representing Crystal Brame's family, said he worries city officials might be trying to scare people when they talk about the effect such a large award would have on the city.

"It's offensive for the city to use inflammatory predictions about city services as a scare tactic for the public," said Luvera, who practices law in Seattle and lives in Gig Harbor.

Also, he said, city officials violated the public trust when they dramatically reduced the city's excess liability insurance coverage from $20 million to $5 million.

Many things, such as a city truck hitting a school bus, could leave the city without enough insurance, Luvera said.

City spokeswoman Mathewson said Tacoma cut its coverage when insurance rates suddenly skyrocketed. The city now pays the same amount for $5 million in coverage as it did for $20 million in the recent past, she said.

Luvera has said he chose the $75 million figure to show city officials how bad their behavior was. He pointed out that, if the city lost a suit, it would not automatically cost it $75 million.

"Any award is going to come from a jury and judge, all of whom are taxpayers in Pierce County," he said.

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659


• The News Tribune's coverage of the David Brame scandal is available at www.tribnet.com/brame.