One City, Its Insurer and the Risk Management Team Argue Over Responsibility of Wrongful Conviction Suit

When a man is exonerated after 20 years for a crime he did not commit, he seeks restitution from the city that put him behind bars.
By: | January 30, 2021

In 1996, a woman named Angie Dodge was raped and murdered, rocking the city of Idaho Falls. Soon, a suspect was identified, and a man named Chris Tapp was convicted of the heinous crimes after police said he confessed to being a participant. Tapp spent 20 years in prison.

That is, until DNA evidence proved another man, Brian Leigh Dripps, was the real perpetrator. In 2019, Dripps confessed and was arrested, while Tapp was exonerated of the crimes.

In turn, Tapp stated his intent to file a wrongful conviction lawsuit against the city.

The Idaho Counties Risk Management Program Underwriters, Traveler’s Insurance Company and the city of Idaho Falls itself are now debating which entity could be responsible for any future settlement or judgment passed in Tapp’s favor.

The Idaho Risk Management Program Underwriters was created in 1985 with the purpose of providing Idaho cities with liability insurance, property insurance and risk management services. The group has argued that it is not responsible for the Tapp lawsuit, because the city signed a contract in April 2003, after Tapp was already convicted.

Idaho Falls disputed this interpretation of the contract.

As for Traveler’s, Idaho Falls held a policy with the insurer at the time Tapp was arrested. When the city sought to reach a settlement with Tapp before he filed any lawsuit, Traveler’s agreed to provide attorneys for the city’s defense. But this was only done with the caveat that Idaho Risk Management Program Underwriters assist in any settlement payments to Tapp.

Because the contract was in dispute, no settlement discussion between Tapp and the city occurred.

The hold-up stems from the debate over what counts as an “occurrence” to activate the insurance policy. Idaho Risk Management Program Underwriters argued that the entire Tapp case, from conviction in the ‘90s to exoneration in 2019, is one “occurrence.” Therefore, the occurrence arose in 1997, prior to the contract between Idaho Falls and the entity.

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Idaho Falls disagreed. It said that the contract never stated an ongoing situation can only be limited to one occurrence.

Scorecard: While Tapp still hasn’t filed a formal lawsuit against the city and all parties, it is still a looming possibility. Idaho Falls and Idaho Risk Management Program Underwriters continue to argue their sides as tensions are growing.

Takeaway: When it comes to deciding which party is responsible for settlement, it might come down to language in a contract. Review wording and plan accordingly. &

Autumn Heisler Demberger is the content strategist at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]