Thursday, October 30, 2014

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Comptroller Says Trend of Rising Lawsuit Costs Can Be Reversed

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Lawsuits against the city now cost taxpayers close to $700 million a year, and that number is rising, but City Comptroller Scott Stringer says that trend can be reversed, and he says he has the data to prove it. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.

Last year, the city paid out $3 million to the family of a man killed by a falling tree branch in Central Park in 2010. Another fallen limb led to a $11.5 million settlement.

According to City Comptroller Scott Stringer, those and other payouts can be traced to a budget-cutting move by the city in 2009 to reduce tree pruning.

"What they didn't realize, that when you stop pruning the trees, they're more likely to be more fragile and cause an accident," Stringer said.

This and other data are included in Stringer's new ClaimStat report, which looks at thousands of individual claims against five city agencies and breaks down the data in an attempt to identify trouble spots.

"Problem now is that we're getting sued because the city keeps making the same mistake over and over and over again," Stringer said. "So we have to look at trends and how we can make government more efficient and better."

The cost of lawsuits has a real impact on city taxpayers. In fact, it works out to about $80 per year per city resident, or $674 million in overall projected costs this fiscal year, which Stringer points out is more than the budgets of the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Aging and the New York Public Library combined.

The New York City Police Department, meanwhile, was responsible for $137 million alone in payouts in fiscal year 2013, but Stringer found that some precincts attract a disproportionate number of claims, like the 44th Precinct in the South Bronx, where one claim involved a 7-year-old boy handcuffed to a pole for six hours.

"Our police commissioner was the founder of CompStat, so he will totally understand and appreciate ClaimStat as a way of looking at saving the city money," Stringer said.

A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that he recently created a new NYPD unit, the Risk Assessment and Compliance Unit, to address these issues. City officials also noted that the mayor's Vision Zero initiative targets sanitation trucks, another area that Stringer's report focuses on, and that the mayor added millions to the budget of the Department of Parks and Recreation for tree pruning.

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