The Town of Amherst received a pretty nice Christmas present this year from the New York State Insurance Fund.
Two checks totaling $17.79 million finally came in this week as reimbursement for what is known as the Bissell case, a long and costly legal dispute with the state insurance agency over a 2002 accident in Amherst State Park.
“Assuming the checks were good, it’s going to be a great Christmas,” said Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones.
More money may be on the way.
The town and its insurer, a subsidiary of AIG, are still locked in a legal fight over $3.1 million in interest accrued from the case.
“They say they’re entitled to it,” said Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein. “We say they’re not.”
Otherwise, the town is happy to have the $17.8 million in its pocket and can now move forward from an incident that has hung over its head for more than a decade.
In 2002, a roof leak was reported at St. Mary of the Angels Motherhouse in the park on Mill Street, which the town partially maintains under an agreement with the state.
Amherst hired McGonigle and Hilger Roofing Co. of Lockport to check out the leak, and the company sent Peter E. Bissell, of Sanborn, who fell from a ladder during his inspection and broke his neck. He was left partially paralyzed in both legs but still able to feel extreme pain in his limbs.
After multiple lawsuits, Bissell eventually was awarded $19.6 million, but the town paid out $23.4 million because of accrued interest.
The town’s insurance carrier covered $10 million of the judgment, and the town borrowed $13.4 million to pay for the rest. A lengthy legal battle ensued to recoup those funds from the roofer’s insurance carrier, the New York State Insurance Fund.
A settlement was finally hammered out in August when the state insurance agency agreed to pay out $31 million – $17.8 million to the town, $10 million to the town’s insurer and the $3.1 million in disputed interest. The bulk of the case load was handled by the town’s outside counsel, attorney Joseph DeMarie.
Most of what was recovered by Amherst will be used to pay back the original borrowing for the judgment, said Comptroller Darlene A. Carroll.
Roughly $4 million from the settlement is essentially profit generated by interest accruing at 9 percent annually, Jones said. A portion of that will go toward replenishing the town insurance fund, and paying legal fees associated with the case, Carroll said.
“We’ll also put $1 million into a tax-stabilization fund,” Weinstein said.
The town will use some of the money to help pay a recent $1.2 million settlement reached between Amherst and a Cheektowaga man injured in a police crash.
“It’s not like it’s a windfall and we have $17 million to play with,” Carroll said. “It’s all accounted for.”