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Comptroller Stringer Releases New York City Claims Report For FY 2017

Total claims filed against the City decline by 7% as settlements and judgment costs increase by 6%

Claims filed against NYPD decline for third consecutive year and costs for civil rights related settlements fall by double digits

New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer recently released the Annual Claims Report, covering data for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017. The Claims Report, which includes breakdowns of personal injury and property damage claims (tort claims) filed and settlement costs paid by the City, shows that 24,953 new tort claims were filed, down 7% from the 26,862 filed in FY 2016. Despite this decline in number of new claims, the cost of tort settlements in FY 2017 increased nearly 6% to $675.6 million, marking the fifth consecutive year of rising costs.

Meanwhile, the cost of non-tort claims (law claims)—such as contract disputes, equitable claims, and refund claims—increased 2% to 6,081 in FY 2017. However, the total amount paid out for the settlement of law claims decreased 10% to $343.1 million in FY 2017, from $381.1 million paid out in FY 2016.

Under the City Charter, the Comptroller’s Office is responsible for settling and adjusting claims on behalf of and against the City of New York. Building on this integral role, in 2014, Comptroller Stringer introduced ClaimStat, a data-driven approach to help reduce claims and costly settlements. Over the last few years, ClaimStat examined several City agencies, including the New York Police Department (NYPD) and Parks Department, as well as pothole costs and playground injuries.

Currently, the Comptroller’s Office shares real time data and coordinates with the Department of Correction (DOC), the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), and the NYPD. In addition, the Comptroller’s Office shares data with Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), and Department of Transportation (DOT) on an ongoing basis. The Comptroller’s Office is continually working to expand coordinated efforts to mitigate risk and to help City agencies implement best practices.

“We have to be smart and we have to be strategic, because when it comes to taxpayer dollars, every penny counts. When tax payer dollars go to City settlements and not to public services, the City loses opportunities to help everyday people. That’s why we believe in a data-driven approach,” said New York City Comptroller Stringer. “A third year of declining claims filed is encouraging. Although it may take several years to realize, fewer claims mean City agencies are working to improve their operations and this should reduce the costs of settlements and judgments down the road.”

Claims against the NYPD declined for a third consecutive year

  • In the last year, the total number of tort claims filed against the NYPD declined to 6,538 in FY 2017 from 7,586 filed in FY 2016 – a 14% decrease and a decline for a third consecutive year.
  • The number of police action claims alleging improper conduct – such as false arrest or imprisonment – fell from 4,483 in FY 2016 to 4,099 in FY 2017. That represents a 9% decline.
  • While number of claims against the NYPD fell, the settlement costs rose to $308.2 million – a 10% increase from $280.2 million in FY 2016.
  • A small number of cases disproportionally accounted for the total cost, including 11 wrongful conviction claims, which represent 0.27% of 4,014 police claims resolved during FY 2017 but accounted for 26% of the total $308.2 million paid out for settlements involving the NYPD.

Number and cost of civil rights claims fell by double digits in FY 2017

  • In the past year, 1,687 civil rights claims were filed against the City, a 27% decrease from 2,318 claims in FY 2016. This marks the third consecutive year of declining civil rights filings.
  • Further, the cost of civil rights claims decreased by 16%, from $133.1 million in FY 2016 to $157.7 million in FY 2017.
  • In FY 2017, the Comptroller’s Office continued its practice of settling certain claims pre-litigation, which save tax payer dollars by avoiding costly and lengthy litigation. That includes the wrongful conviction claims of Vanessa Gathers, William Vasquez, Amaury Villalobos, and Raymond Mara, as well as the wrongful death claim filed by the Estate of Felix Kumi, a bystander who was killed by an undercover NYPD officer’s stray bullet.

The City continues to resolve claims relating to incidents that occurred decades ago

The Comptroller’s Office and Office of the Corporation Counsel must consistently strike the difficult balance of resolutely defending the City while avoiding drawn-out litigation. When appropriate, the Comptroller’s Office will continue to settle meritorious claims in their early stages, driving down future settlement and judgment costs, to the benefit of all City taxpayers.

  • The settlement of Legacy Claims (those filed before FY 2008) cost the city $84.5 million. This includes $29.5 million paid out to five New York City firefighters and their families for the death and serious injuries these firefighters sustained responding to a January 2005 fire at an apartment building in the Bronx.
  • Excluding Legacy Claim settlements, the overall payout on tort claim settlements declined from $593.1 million in FY 2016 to $591.3 million in FY 2017.

“Right now, we are focused on settling cases where citizens were wrongfully convicted as far back as 1981, which consumes a huge percentage of current payouts,” said Comptroller Stringer. “By resolving these wrongful conviction cases and other tort cases that were filed more than a decade ago, and as we take preventative, data-driven steps to prevent costly incidents from occurring now, we are working to save taxpayer dollars for years to come.”

Malpractice claims decreased at New York City Health + Hospitals

Claims against NYC Health + Hospitals (H+H) encompass claims for personal injuries including alleged medical malpractice, slip/trip and fall accidents on hospital property, and property damage sustained on hospital property.

  • The number of new malpractice claims filed against H+Hs’ acute care hospitals decreased by 17% to 465 claims in FY 2017. That is down from 559 claims filed in FY 2016.
  • The two biggest decreases in malpractice claims settled in FY 2017 at acute care hospitals were recorded at Bellevue (from 93 to 67 claims) and Harlem (from 48 to 31 claims) Hospitals.
  • Overall, settlements of H+H claims amounted to $95.7 million in FY 2017, down from $113.4 million in FY 2016.

Claims rise slightly at DOC, while falling at other agencies

  • In FY 2017, the five agencies that experienced the highest number of total claims filed were the NYPD (6,538 claims), DOT (4,767 claims), DOC (4,430 claims), DSNY (2,071 claims), and Department of Education (1,355 claims).
  • In FY 2017, DOC claims stayed nearly level with FY 2016 at 4,430 claims and 4,326 claims, respectively.
  • Following the surge in DOC settlement and judgment costs to $27.1 million in FY 2015, from $11.1 million in FY 2014, FY 2016 and FY 2017 saw a continuation of this upward trend with $32.9 million and $37.3 million respectively in settlement and judgment costs—a 236% increase between FY 2014 to FY 2017.

Borough Breakdown: Bronx continues to lead in claims filed, settlements

  • A borough-by-borough breakdown of claims showed that in FY 2017 the largest number of personal injury claims were resolved in the Bronx (2,298), while claims resolved in Brooklyn resulted in the largest overall payout ($241.4 million).
  • For property damage claims, Brooklyn led the boroughs in the number of resolved claims (514), while claims resolved in Queens resulted in the largest overall payout ($2.9 million).
  • The total number of Personal Injury and Property Damage claims filed by borough in FY 2017 were:
    • The Bronx with 5,936 Personal Injury and 1,210 Property Damage claims;
    • Brooklyn with 4,273 Personal Injury and 1,817 Property Damage claims;
    • Manhattan with 3,264 Personal Injury and 1,321 Property Damage claims;
    • Queens with 2,307 Personal Injury and 1,808 Property Damage claims; and
    • Staten Island with 468 Personal Injury and 568 Property Damage claims.

“When we see a disparity in claims filed by borough, it indicates inequality around the City,” said Comptroller Stringer. “Looking at claims across boroughs allows us to see how the City is working at a more local level and shows us where the City needs to improve.”