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The Adopted Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 sets aside $710 million to pay settlements and judgments from lawsuits brought against the City of New York. 1 That is more than $83 per New York City resident that is devoted to claims, ranging from falling tree limbs and unfilled potholes, to medical malpractice and civil rights violations. In fact, the “judgments and claims” budget for FY 2016 is greater than the budgets for the Department of the Aging, the City Council, and the City’s three library systems combined.
Comptroller Scott M. Stringer is committed to driving down claim costs across all agencies in order to boost the quality of city services and save taxpayer dollars.
That’s why last year, the Comptroller launched ClaimStat: a data-driven approach to claims management that drills down on the thousands of claims to identify patterns and practices that lead to lawsuits against the City.
ClaimStat has incentivized agency heads to take a more analytical approach to claims costs—not only due to their expense to the public, but also because claims can serve as indication that agencies are failing to serve the public properly.
Since the initial ClaimStat report was published in July 2014, 2 the Comptroller has issued a series of “ClaimStat Alerts” highlighting claims filed against the Department of Correction,3 claims filed by pedestrians injured by City-owned vehicles,4 claims filed due to injuries suffered at the City’s playgrounds,5 and claims filed due to defective roadways, including pothole-related claims.6
In addition, under ClaimStat, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the Comptroller’s Office have established a joint working group of senior managers who meet regularly to address issues and trends regarding claims involving law enforcement.
This initiative has allowed for unprecedented sharing of information between agencies, with the Comptroller’s Bureau of Law and Adjustment (BLA) unit providing claims information in real time to the NYPD, while also securing evidence that helps BLA decide whether to resolve viable or reject frivolous claims far earlier in the process.
The initial ClaimStat report focused on claims activity in FY 2012 and 2013, with a few exceptions noted in the text.7 This report provides an update based on claims data from FY 2014 and 2015 and settlements and judgments through FY 2014.8 Where applicable, significant year-over-year changes between FY 2014 and 2015 are highlighted as well.
Some of the key findings in this ClaimStat update include:
- Police Department: Personal injury police action claims declined nearly 13 percent in FY 2015—from 5,727 in FY 2014 to 5,007 in FY 2015. This marked a stark reversal from recent trends and was the first double-digit percentage decline in police action claims in at least two decades. Total tort claims against the Police Department showed a similar decline of 12 percent, from 9,634 in FY 2014 to 8,519 in FY 2015.Despite this progress, an analysis of police action claims in Calendar Year 2014 continued to reveal significant disparities in claims between precincts. In fact, even when adjusting for crime rates, precincts in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn continue to have far more claims filed against their officers than precincts in other parts of the City.While several precincts improved their performance on this metric between 2013-2014 (23rd Precinct in East Harlem, 33rd Precinct in Washington Heights, 76th Precinct in Red Hook and 101st Precinct in The Rockaways), other precincts witnessed even more claims per crime complaint, including the 44th and 46th Precincts in the South Bronx and the 25th Precinct in Harlem.Overall, 8 of the 15 precincts with the most claims/crime complaint in calendar year 2014 (excluding the Central Park Precinct) are located in the Bronx, with Manhattan North, Brooklyn North and Manhattan South making up the remainder.
- Health and Hospitals Corporation: While the total number of claims against HHC declined from 982 in FY 2013 to 902 in FY 2015 (reaching a low of 876 in FY 2014), the total number of medical malpractice claims at HHC’s 11 flagship hospitals increased from 495 in FY 2013 to 521 in FY 2015.In addition, the Comptroller’s hospital-by-hospital analysis of recent data once again reveals that some facilities are faring better than others, with Bellevue and Coney Island seeing significantly more medical malpractice claims in FY 2015 than FY 2013 and Harlem and North Central Bronx benefitting from decreases in medical malpractice claims.The cost of medical malpractice claims at HHC’s 11 flagship hospitals declined by 10 percent between FY 2013 and FY 2014, from $126.4 million to $114.1 million.While HHC has made great strides in risk management over the past decade, the Corporation should continue to analyze medical malpractice claim trends to determine whether additional steps can be taken to mitigate risk to patients and the public fisc.
- Department of Parks and Recreation: Tree-limb related claims dropped by over 54 percent between FY 2013 (382) and FY 2014 (174). While the number of claims rose modestly in FY 2015 (to 207), the numbers remain near historic lows.This progress follows the City Council’s restoration of tree-pruning funding in FY 2013. Prior cuts to the tree-pruning budget in FY 2010 precipitated a sharp rise in tree-limb claims and settlement costs.In addition, DPR is starting to see the effects of the restored tree pruning budget on judgment and settlement costs. In FY 2014, the judgment and claims costs against DPR Office of the New York City Comptroller Scott M. St 2 ringer plunged from $29.6 million to $15.8 million, a decline of 47 percent and the lowest total since FY 2009.
- Department of Environmental Protection: Sewer overflow claims fell by 20 percent between FY 2012-2013 and FY 2014-2015. In FY 2012-2013, there were 1,296 sewer overflow claims filed against DEP. In FY 2014-2015, there were 1,035 claims filed, with the number falling significantly from FY 2014 (589) to FY 2015 (446). This represents a significant improvement for DEP and should yield savings for the City in the coming years.There were significant changes in where the claims came from during this time period. Community District 5 in Brooklyn and Community District 10 in Queens had more than 100 additional claims filed in FY 2014 and 2015 than in FY 2012 and 2013. By comparison, Community District 18 in Brooklyn and Community District 2 in Staten Island saw their claims activity decline by more than 100 claims during this time period.Sewer claims continue to be concentrated in low-lying areas of the city, including Staten Island and in communities surrounding Jamaica Bay.
- Department of Sanitation: In marked contrast to the progress witnessed by DEP, property damage motor vehicle claims filed against the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) soared from 1,999 in FY 2012 and 2013 to 2,825 in FY 2014 and 2015, an increase of 41 percent.While these claims come from all corners of the five boroughs, our report finds that property damage claims involving sanitation trucks are most common on Staten Island, Eastern Queens, and certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan.The rise in property damage motor vehicle claims at DSNY is particularly notable given that crashes involving the City’s fleet that led to injuries fell by 30 percent between FY 2014 and FY 2015.9In September, New York City received a competitive grant award of up to $20 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to retrofit thousands of city vehicles with crash avoidance technology and other equipment to reduce injuries and fatalities.10 Given these figures, the City should consider prioritizing the retrofitting of DSNY vehicles.