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Car Crashes by City Workers Cost Taxpayers $180M in Payouts Last Year: Report

A record number of victims of crashes involving city employees in city-owned cars filed claims in fiscal year 2023 — and settlements with victims have jumped 23 percent, a new report shows.

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman|

Too many cars, too many crashes.

A record number of victims of crashes involving city employees in city-owned cars filed claims in fiscal year 2023 — and settlements with victims have jumped 23 percent, a new report shows.

According to City Comptroller Brad Lander’s annual “claims report,” claims against the city for reckless driving by its employees increased by 14 percent in fiscal year 2023, rising to 1,693 from the 1,480 claims filed in the previous fiscal year, which runs from July 1 through June 30.

The claims represent the highest number of motor vehicle claims against the city since fiscal year 2000, long before the Vision Zero era ushered in new levels of driver safety training for the city workforce.

Total motor vehicle settlements with victims rose to $173.7 million in the period of July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023, up 23 percent from the $141.1 million paid out in the previous 12 months. Of all the $1.45-billion in claims, the types of claims break down this way:

Motor vehicle crash settlements remain a plurality of all city payouts.Chart: Comptroller's Office

The massive payout to victims of road violence involving city officials is especially egregious considering that personal injury claim settlements from motor vehicles are the costliest category of city settlements, even though the number of claims (1,693) is far lower than claims from police action (5,092), city transgressions at correction facilities (4,118) and sidewalk claims (2,350). The next-costliest city settlement category was civil rights claims, which cost the city $145.4 million and had 1,450 claims in the last fiscal year.

All of the thousands of police action claims cost $93.1 million.

Lander’s auditors said they were concerned because of the “continued trend of increasing personal injury motor vehicle payouts since FY 2015,” citing a 158-percent increase in total personal injury motor vehicle claim payouts since FY 2015 when $67.4 million was paid out.

“FY 2023 is the seventh consecutive fiscal year in which personal injury motor vehicle claim settlements topped $100 million,” the report said.

Some agencies' workers cost the city more last than the year before, a negative trend as illustrated by the chart below, which shows that the Department of Sanitation, the Fire Department and the NYPD cause the most damage or injuries:

Green indicates a better year for city driving by agency; red indicates a worse year.Chart: Comptroller's Office

Lander has previously used the annual claims report as a chance to advocate for safer practices that would immediately save the city money in multi-million payouts. Last year’s report called for “implementing emerging fleet safety initiatives, reducing the number and size of vehicles in the City fleet, improving street design, and enhancing accountability for both City drivers and agencies.”

Many of those recommendations have indeed been implemented. And it’s telling that the agency that oversees Vision Zero is doing better on reducing crashes involving its employees. 

In FY 2023, the cost of motor vehicle settlements against DOT dropped to $6.1 million from $8.2 million in FY 2022, a 25-percent decrease. 

Lander has also called for the cost of settlements to be taken directly from a given agency’s budget, which he believes will incentivize the top brass to make safety a priority. That measure has not been implemented.

City Hall spokesperson Liz Garcia pointed out that claims against the city that are settled without a trial are handled ... by the city comptroller. And she added that Mayor Adams is "leading by example by holding city vehicles to the highest standards of safety."

"The Adams administration has made major strides to improve traffic safety among our city-owned and contracted vehicles, trucks, and school buses by increasing driver training requirements, piloting 360-degree cameras and safety cameras, and using innovative technology to limit speeding, among other nation-leading efforts."

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