Bainbridge officials say money for Ostling verdict will come from insurance pool

City officials said the $1 million verdict against Bainbridge Island in the Ostling civil rights lawsuit is expected to be paid by the city's insurer.

Interim City Manager Morgan Smith said the city's insurance provider, Washington Cities Insurance Authority, covers judgements against the city and the award in the Ostling lawsuit would not come from the city's budget.

Smith, who expressed remorse for the death of Douglas Ostling in a statement released Friday after the verdict was announced, declined to comment further Monday on the lawsuit.

William and Joyce Ostling filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Bainbridge Island last year, and said their civil rights were violated when Bainbridge Police Officer Jeffrey Benkert shot and killed their son, Douglas Ostling, after police came to the family's home to investigate a 911 call in October 2010.

Last week, two days after closing arguments in the case, an eight-member jury rendered a split decision.

The jury found the shooting justified, and that authorities did not improperly deny Ostling medical aid after he was shot.

But the jury also said that police officers had not been properly trained to deal with the mentally ill and found fault with the city of Bainbridge Island and Police Chief Jon Fehlman. The jury awarded $1 million in damages; $200,000 to the estate of Douglas Ostling, and $400,000 each for both William and Joyce Ostling.

Council members contacted Monday said they didn't know if the city would consider an appeal on the ruling, or even if there would be a discussion on the possibility of an appeal.

"I have no idea, is what it generally boils down to," said Councilwoman Anne Blair.

"We haven't talked about it," Blair said of an appeal or the city's next steps.

"I'm assuming that we will figure out a way to have that conversation. At this point we have not," she said.

Councilman Steve Bonkowski also said council members have not yet talked about an appeal.

"I have not had any discussion on that subject and I don't know if we're planning on having a discussion or not at this time," Bonkowski said.

Blair also said council members were not planning on commenting on the lawsuit at length, and instead had agreed that the interim city manager's statement after the verdict was tendered should be the city's proper response.

When asked for his reaction to the verdict, Bonkowski said the jury did what it was asked to do.

"That's what we have a judicial system for, is to determine — based on a set of facts — how those facts are interpreted by the jury. And that's what they did," Bonkowski said.

"I feel for the Ostlings on the loss of their son. It was extraordinarily unfortunate," Bonkowski added.

The city of Bainbridge Island has received liability insurance coverage from the Washington Cities Insurance Authority since the city was incorporated, and before that, Winslow was a member city in the pool.

The pool now has 146 members — cities, towns and regional agencies — and an annual budget of approximately $20 million.

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