ClaimStat crunches claims data to identify NYC’s chronic problems
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Oct 30, 2015
Cities looking to get the most value from their limited budgets often look first to cost avoidance – not spending money where they don’t have to. And New York, like many large metropolitan areas, found it was spending far too much money settling claims against the city.
Every year, the Comptroller’s office receives approximately 28,000 claims dealing with everything from playground injuries to damage from sewer overflow. More than 9,500 claims were filed against the Police Department in fiscal 2013, and settlements and judgments totaled $137.2 million, the highest of any city agency.
To deal with ballooning legal costs resulting from those claims, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer last year developed ClaimStat, a data-driven initiative that identifies the patterns and practices that lead to lawsuits against the city.
The Comptroller’s Bureau of Law and Adjustment (BLA) analyzes the data, breaking down the claims by type, such as personal injury, police action, pedestrian or playground injury, tree-related claims or sanitation vehicle property damage claims. Information on each claim is also presented on maps with pinpoints. When those are clicked, a box pops up with the claim number and date and location of the incident. (The findings are published periodically, not in real time, according to ClaimStat’s webpage.)
The city’s fiscal 2015 executive budget allotted $674 million to pay settlements and judgments from lawsuits against the city, which amounts to more than $80 per resident, according to a 2014 report. “These costs are projected to rise over the next four years to $782 million by FY 2018, a figure that is greater than the FY 2015 budget for the Parks Department, Department of Aging, and New York Public Library combined,” the report states.
Besides identifying the city departments that are spending too much on claims, the program also gives shines a spotlight on underperforming city services. By making changes in training or resource delivery, for example, agencies can not only reduce claims, but also pinpoint the locations and often the reasons services are falling down.
A rash of claims for damage from potholes, for example, can give the Department of Transportation “a road map to identifying the trouble spots across all five boroughs so that they can do the important work of repairing roadways now, before winter weather comes storming back to make our City’s streets even worse,” Comptroller Stringer said in a recent ClaimStat alert.
And when the city was paying more for damages from falling tree limbs, Stringer pointed to a correlation between the Parks Department’s budget and the number of claims. “So it’s no accident that… tree limb cases went up when the budget eliminated a million dollars for tree pruning,” he told the Observer.
Several cities across the country have embraced similar data-driven approaches to claims management.
In Portland, Ore., for instance, when the Police Department auditor observed a pattern of claims suggesting that officers did not understand the basis of their authority to enter a home without a warrant, the city attorney’s office made a training video on this issue, and the problem practically disappeared.
Indeed, while not all claims are meritorious, in the aggregate, claims data can act as a leading indicator of potential problems that agencies should work hard to address.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.