By Joan Gralla
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City paid nearly $521 million in personal injury and property damage claims in 2010 -- marking the first time in 30 years that the police department's liabilities topped those of public hospitals, according to a city comptroller's report issued on Wednesday.
The total payout, though, is down 7 percent from the previous year.
New York City comptrollers settle and adjust claims against the city for injuries, such as falls caused by flawed sidewalks, and other liabilities such as tuition for pupils with special needs beyond the scope of public schools.
In his report for fiscal 2010, Comptroller John Liu said that personal injury claims settled before litigation cost an average of $14,506. That figure is just under half the sum of $24,269 that the city had to pay after court proceedings had started.
New York City has the nation's biggest public hospital system. When it comes to personal injury claims, medical malpractice was the costliest category, at $130 million.
The second-costliest category was the almost $79 million paid for civil rights judgments.
"Most of the increase was due to the December 2009 settlement of a $33 million class-action case that challenged strip-search procedures in Department of Corrections facilities," the report said.
POLICE ACTION CLAIMS JUMP
Ranked third were motor vehicle settlements at $65 million, followed by $56 million for police actions claims, such as false arrest or excessive force or assault.
Last year marked the highest number of new police action filings in the last five fiscal years, the report said.
The total amount of settlements and tort claims for the Police Department was nearly $136 million in both 2009 and 2010.
The Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs the public hospitals and serves 450,000 people a year who have no insurance, had around $134 million in claims in both years.
Last year also set the record for new personal injury and property damage claims: 32,913 were filed. This increase "can be attributed to the unprecedented filing of new claims related to the injuries claimed by those working or living at or near the World Trade Center site after the attacks of September 11, 2001," the report said, noting they were 20 percent of the total.
For years, city comptrollers have tried to slice the costs of judgments, by using an electronic settlement program and pursuing out-of-court solutions. But not that much progress has been made since the $589 million record high hit in 2001.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has estimated that these liabilities will cost the city $655 million in the new fiscal year that starts July 1, the report said, estimating that was about $50 million more than will be needed.
For the full report, see: http://www.comptroller.nyc.gov/bureaus/bla/pdf/2011_Claims_Report.pdf
(Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Jan Paschal)