The City continues to pay hefty sums to settle personal injury claims pertaining to crashes involving city-owned vehicles—a number that is consistently climbing, according to a new report.
The report, titled Wreckless Spending: The Accelerating Cost of City Car Crash Settlements, was released by the New York City Comptroller’s Office Monday and revealed that the amount the city is paying to cover these settlements continues to soar–from $67.4 million in the fiscal year 2015 to as high as $130 million in the fiscal year 2021.
While the number of claims the city has settled in recent years has declined, the cost of each case continues to rise. For instance, the average amount paid to settle a claim in 2012 was $15,187, in comparison to $242,365 in 2021. The median amount paid to settle a claim also went from $9,000 in 2012 to $50,000 in 2021.
The report includes a list of measures put forward by Comptroller Brad Lander to get these payments down. These included shrinking the size of the city-owned fleet to reducing the size of the vehicles. In addition, Lander recommends several safety changes that should be made the vehicles themselves—including the addition of Automatic Emergency Braking and Intelligent Speed Assistance.
The report, however, did not mention the legal strategy the city is taking to fight the size of the awards at a time when the number of crash claims settled has dropped. For instance, the City settled 518 claims in 2021, down from 830 in 2012.
Lander said the way to reduce the amount the city is having to fork over on settlements is to get the number of crashes down.
“The epidemic of vehicle crashes is a serious public safety concern to New Yorkers, and unfortunately the City fleet is not an exception,” Lander said in a statement.
“But in these cases, when a New Yorker is hit and harmed by a squad car or a garbage truck, it’s New York City taxpayers who have to settle the bill. By accelerating the adoption of fleet safety technologies, reducing the size and number of vehicles in the City fleet, and holding City drivers and agencies accountable, we can save lives – and many of millions of dollars too.”
The report revealed that the city has a fleet of about 30,000 vehicles, with the NYPD and Dept. of Sanitation having the biggest share. The NYPD accounts for 32 percent of the city’s fleet, with 9,369 vehicles, with the DSNY accounting for 20 percent, with 5,946 vehicles.
The NYPD accounts for 35 percent of the crashes leading to settlements, with the DSNY accounting for 21 percent.
The NYPD and DSNY have been disproportionally involved in crashes leading to hefty settlements in comparison to other agencies. The report found that 4 percent of the personal injury claims—over the period of 2012-2021—were settled for more than $1 million, with 67 percent of them involving NYPD and DSNY vehicles.
The NYPD and DSNY, however, operate much larger vehicles compared to other agencies.
The report said that the most expensive crashes tend to involve larger vehicles, since they require longer braking distances, have larger blind spots and just do more damage due to their bulk.
Lander said that despite the damage caused by large vehicles, the city has added more trucks and SUVs to its fleet between 2015 and today. He is advocating for the city to change its policy and reduce the size of the vehicles — as well as the number —in the fleet.
Several organizations representing bicycle and transportation groups commented on the study.
“Safe cars are just the start,” said Elizabeth Adams, senior director of advocacy & organization at Transportation Alternatives, in a statement. “We need to see a comprehensive plan from this administration that reduces the number of cars in the city fleet, while redesigning streets across New York City for safety.”