MANHATTAN — New York City paid out an eye-popping $561 million in lawsuits last year, according to the Law Department.
“In a time of financial crisis and budgetary cuts, $561 million is not just a huge number — it represents an unacceptable trade-off in favor of individual plaintiffs at the expense of providing needed services to New Yorkers,” said Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo in a speech Friday morning to the Citizens Budget Commission.
The payouts in fiscal year 2011 represent an 8 percent increase over the year before, although the money spent on suits has remained relatively steady over the past decade.
Awards for slip and falls on sidewalks have fallen dramatically over the past few years, from $68.9 million in 2007 to $32.8 million in 2011 in the wake of legislation that shifted liability to property owners.
Still, Cardozo argued that tort reforms are needed to cut down on the money that is paid out each year for lawsuits against the city.
He pointed toward joint liability rules requiring the city to pay out money even when another defendant is primarily responsible and laws requiring the city to pay damages even when the plaintiff's actions the primary cause of an accident.
"Despite the political realities we simply cannot give up in our efforts to reform the tort laws at least in so far as they affect governmental entities," said Cardozo.
"Changing the laws to relieve municipalities across the state from this tort albatross would remove what in effect is an unfunded mandate, save New York City approximately $100 million a year, and benefit other governmental entities throughout the state as well."
The law department represents the city, mayor and city agencies in legal matters including affirmative and defense litigation.