FERGUSON • An insurance company for Ferguson has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Michael Brown over his 2014 death, a lawyer said Friday.
Ferguson City Attorney Apollo Carey told the Post-Dispatch in an email Friday morning that the insurance company paid $1.5 million "on behalf of multiple defendants." Brown's parents were suing the city, former Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson and former police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown.
U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber approved the secret settlement Tuesday. In his order, Webber did not mention the amount, writing only that it is “fair and reasonable compensation for this wrongful death claim and is in the best interests of each Plaintiff.”
Webber said the split of the amount between Michael Brown Sr. and Lezley McSpadden “is fair and reasonable,” and the agreement “provides for a reasonable amount” for attorney fees and expenses.
Settlements involving public entities are generally open records under Missouri law, but Webber ordered the agreement sealed and said that it should be considered a closed record under the Law “due to the adverse impact to Plaintiffs should it be disclosed."
"Disclosure of the terms of the settlement agreement," Webber wrote, "could jeopardize the safety of individuals involved in this matter, whether as witnesses, parties, or investigators. The public policy to consider records open is outweighed by the adverse impact to Plaintiffs."
State law does require that the settlement amount be released, and Carey disclosed the amount after open records requests from the Post-Dispatch and at least one other media organization, the Associated Press.
The Post-Dispatch reported on Monday that a settlement was near, and that it would be less than the $3 million limit of the city's insurance.
Lawyers on both sides, and a board member of the insurance company, declined in recent days to comment on any aspect of the settlement or what led to it.
All sides faced risks if they took the case to trial.
Peter Joy, professor at the Washington University School of Law, said that had the city lost, the insurance company would have paid any judgment up to the $3 million limit, but Ferguson would have had to pay any amount above that.
They would also have to pay lawyers fees and costs.
A trial alone could have cost $100,000 for just one side, he said, and he guessed that they'd already “sunk a lot of money into it to get to this point.”
From the Brown's family's perspective, they could have lost at the trial, or they could have prevailed but been awarded less than the $1.5 million, he said.
Plaintiff's lawyers working on a contingency basis typically take 33-40 percent of a settlement, and then the plaintiffs have to pay costs and any taxes, Joy said.
The Brown family's 2016 lawsuit says that a police culture of pervasive hostility toward African-Americans led to the death of Brown, 18, on Aug. 9, 2014. Wilson used excessive and unreasonable force, the suit says.