Crashes By City Workers — Especially Cops — Are Still Costing Taxpayers Dearly

Crashes like this cost the city lots of money. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Crashes like this cost the city lots of money. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Crashes by city workers in city cars are still costing taxpayers close to $140 million per year, despite years of Vision Zero campaigns within the workforce, a new report reveals.

In fiscal year 2021, which reflects July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, the city paid out $138.5 million to settle 4,143 cases involving a city worker who hit someone — or something — with a city-provided car. The total FY21 settlements were down about $11 million (or about 7.5 percent) from the previous fiscal year, but far higher than in many recent years, according to the city Comptroller’s annual “Claims Report,” which will be issued today.

Injury and property damage from crashes represent the largest cause for payouts by the city — even ahead of police brutality, slip and falls on sidewalks, or misconduct in the city’s jails:

Chart: NYC Comptroller (enhanced by Streetsblog)
Chart: NYC Comptroller (enhanced by Streetsblog)

And injury cases comprise more than 96 percent of the motor vehicle claims (property damage settlements represent just 3.4 percent of the $138.5 million in FY2021 claims).

Comptroller Brad Lander sounded the alarm (which he did previously as a member of the City Council after Streetsblog reported on the hundreds of millions of dollars lost in this manner).

“As the claims report shows, city-owned motor vehicles cause the largest share of personal injury and property damage settlements, costing the city and New Yorkers dearly,” Lander said in a statement. “These payouts cost over a hundred of million dollars a year, and can never account for the damage to traffic victims and their families. Traffic violence has a price NYC cannot afford.”

Just five agencies — the NYPD, the Department of Sanitation, the FDNY, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation — account for virtually all of the motor vehicle payouts in FY21:

  • NYPD: $48.4 million on 1,162 claims. That’s down from $73.2 million last year, but still well above the $38.4 million average annual payout amount between FY2012 and FY2020.
  • DSNY: $34.3 million on 1,173 claims. That’s up from $26.3 million paid out last year, and well above the $27.7 average annual payout amount between FY2012 and FY2020.
  • FDNY: $24.1 million on 772 claims. That’s roughly unchanged from last year, but well above the $15.1 million average annual payout amount between FY2012 and FY2020.
  • DEP: $8.6 million on 72 claims. That’s more than triple last year’s payouts, and still well above the $3.6 million average annual payout amount between FY2012 and FY2020.
  • DOT: $6.33 million on 263 claims. That’s up from $5 million last year, and still well above the $4.45 million average annual payout amount between FY2012 and FY2020.

Vehicle crashes by those agencies’ workers alone cost taxpayers $121.7 million in the last fiscal year. Only two agencies — Sanitation and DOT — responded to a request for comment from Streetsblog.

DSNY Spokesman Joshua Goodman pointed out that the payouts in any given year reflect cases that may go back many years, but were merely finalized in the fiscal year in question.

“So in other words, the $34.3 million number is not a reflection of the number of collisions that happened in FY21, but rather of payouts in that year regardless of when the case occurred,” Goodman said. “There were likely one or two larger settlements in FY21 and there may have been more settlements in FY21 than FY20 due to the pandemic.”

He also said that the higher figure this year may be a result of “inflation occurring across most sectors of the economy.”

DOT spokesman Scott Gastel added, “We strive to keep claims figures low, keeping in mind taxpayers, while managing a large fleet of vehicles fitting for DOT’s operational responsibilities.”

The NYPD’s motor vehicle claims account for 22 percent of the agency’s settlements, which is dwarfed by the general category of “police action,” but is otherwise the agency’s second-leading cause of costing taxpayers:

NYPD tort claims in FY2021. Chart: NYC Comptroller (with annotations by Streetsblog)
NYPD tort claims in FY2021. Chart: NYC Comptroller (with annotations by Streetsblog)

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