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Editorial: Litigious society

Posted: July 23, 2018 3:17 p.m.
Updated: July 24, 2018 1:00 a.m.

We think our readers will find today’s front page story, by senior writer Martin L. Cahn, regarding payouts made by Kershaw County to former employees very interesting.

The story developed because of Cahn’s reporting on the case of Samantha Connell, who was paid some $22,000 by Kershaw County as a “severance package.” This was made at her request, allegedly due to sexual harassment she says she endured while employed with the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office.

Since that time, she has been arrested on embezzlement charges in connection with allegedly mishandled funds for which she was responsible when she was employed by the KCSO. Those charges are currently being investigated by SLED.

In the course of his investigation, Cahn has found that, in addition to Connell, Kershaw County made several payouts, beyond those normally associated with leaving employment, to former employees over the past 10 years. All were paid in connection with legal action initiated by the employees against the county.

We understand that not only are such payments commonplace, in most cases, it’s far less expensive and far more expedient for organizations to settle quietly -- regardless of the merits of the allegations -- rather than risk far greater expense associated with continued litigation. The county, like so many organizations, has insurance for those situations.

In the grand scheme of things, settlement seems to have been the wisest course of action for the county. If one looks at the amounts for which the plaintiffs initially sued versus the amounts they were actually paid -- for example, in one case a $4 million suit settled for $20,000 -- not only is the total amount of settlements paid far less than what could have been ordered by a judge or jury, not to mention the associated ongoing legal fees -- it’s significantly less than the amount paid for the insurance premiums. So, yes, from a purely economic standpoint, these were sound decisions.

What is troubling is the fact that payments have to be made at all. That’s not an indictment of either county officials or plaintiffs, nor is it in any way a judgment call regarding any of the cases mentioned in our story.

But it does sometimes seem that the message society sends is that all anyone has to do to make a quick buck is to threaten legal action and somebody will pay. And that is a sad -- and yes, occasionally, even infuriating -- revelation regarding the state of the world we live in today.

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