In a voice vote, the City Council this week decided to take a big financial hit and settle a 2-year-old lawsuit brought by a woman who fell partway into a manhole.

The $200,000 payment to Lise Tuttle will carve a large chunk out of the $3 million pool set aside for the settlement of claims against the city.Payments of this magnitude are rare, said City Attorney Russell Mahan. He remembers settling only one other case with a similar amount (that one was $250,000) since Bountiful began insuring itself in 1987.

"It's just one of those things that happens when you're self-insured," he said. "Overall, (insuring itself) has been a savings to the city."

Tuttle was jogging with a friend along 500 West in Bountiful on Nov. 7, 1990, when she veered off the sidewalk to avoid a sign in front of Big O Tires at 600 South. She ended up stepping on a manhole cover next to the walkway. The cover gave way, and down went Tuttle's leg up to her hip.

Someone had put on the ring that supports the manhole cover upside-down, so the cover was loose.

Tuttle was severely hurt and had to have surgery to fuse two vertebrae in her back.

"There's no doubt that this was a life-changing injury," Mahan said. "It was a catastrophe in her life."

The city paid Tuttle's initial medical expenses, including a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, to the tune of $12,500. After the suit was filed, however, the city refused to pay any more, saying the injury was Big O's fault for putting the sign on the sidewalk.

After the requisite legal jockeying, however, and with an expensive trial looming, city officials decided to settle.

"Had the sign not been there, this would not have happened," Mahan said. "(But) we had a substantial risk in taking it to the jury. (The settlement also) saved us a great deal of work."

Mahan was worried about something else, too. According to a 1983 state law, the most a city has to pay to a personal injury victim is $250,000. The Utah Supreme Court last year upheld that law, but only by the slimmest of vote margins: 3-2. One of the majority voters has since retired, and Mahan thought the court might change its mind if the matter came up again.

"All things considered, we felt this was a means of taking a known risk and putting a known dollar figure on it," Mahan said.

Tuttle's attorney characterized the settlement as "satisfactory."