Toronto paying millions in lawsuit claims

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The City of Toronto has spent more than $200 million to settle civil lawsuits since 2000, and the payouts are getting richer, a municipal database obtained by the Star shows.

Litigants range from people alleging they were struck by golf balls to prisoners claiming they were assaulted in police custody.

The largest payment, for $4,454,909.69, stems from a 2001 incident in which a lifeguard was alleged to be at fault. The city did not release details of the case, or of any of the 3,062 settlements contained in the database. Many of the cases are covered by confidentiality agreements.

Almost one in four of the total tally  773  were related to road and sidewalk maintenance. Those settlements totalled $32,458,390.50.

The citys response to inclement weather accounted for 640 lawsuits. On incident involving an icy driveway cost the city $439,345.74.

Police activity has resulted in at least 256 settlements, worth more than $27 million. That includes dozens of cases of use of force, false arrest and negligent investigation.

The city self-insures for all claims under $5 million  meaning it pays the claims with city money  and maintains a reserve fund to cover claims. The city buys insurance coverage to handle claims worth more than $5 million. Any claims that large would not show on the database.

Shelley Carroll, who served as city budget chief from 2006 to 2010, said poor city services were partly to blame for the number of settlements.

We’ve privatized the repair of the sidewalks that people are going to trip on, she said.

At a certain point do we have to ask ourselves: do we want prettier sidewalks  do we want to pay it out in the settlement  or fund it properly in the first place?

Carroll added that the total cost of the settlements didn’t seem high.

Two hundred million over the time span youre looking at is not unreasonable  By and large we have reasonable lawsuits. We don’t have a nutty, litigious society like the United States.

The number of settlements per year has not being growing  in fact, it has declined slightly  but the likelihood of getting a large settlement has increased. All five of the years with the highest average settlement have come since 2007. That includes three years  2008, 2011, and 2012  with an average settlement greater than $100,000. (The average for the past fourteen years, including so far in 2013, is just over $60,000.)

But Carroll said it wouldnt be worthwhile to try to curb the amount paid in settlements.

Its kind of a mugs game to set a dollar amount, because when you pay a big settlement for a good reason, it goes out the window.

The database, which the Star obtained through a Freedom of Information request, shows the reasons the city pays out settlements in civil cases.

  • Slipping and falling is more likely to land you a settlement than tripping and falling: slips have resulted in 140 settlements, costing the city $5,230,771.35; trips have resulted in 107 settlements worth $4,657,259.75.
  • Beware the trees: arboreal misadventures are to blame for 57 settlements costing about $1.5 million. That includes 21 for trees that caused bodily injury and 36 for trees that caused property damage, though the portion of data obtained by the Star does not include descriptions of the incidents.
  • The city has paid settlements in 33 cases of discrimination leading to personal injury, amounting to $1,833,575.88.
  • The city has also settled 22 human rights complaints, including two for more than $200,000.
  • City vehicles, meanwhile, seem to engage in their fair share of bad driving, having led to 186 settlements worth almost $22 million, including 35 incidents of pedestrians being struck by city vehicles.

It isn’t clear what kinds of city vehicles have been involved in the collisions  whether police cars, snow plows, or TTC buses and streetcars. But the 24 settlements caused by a city vehicle entering intersections against the light suggests fire trucks and ambulances, which often run red lights.

  • The city has made 20 payouts over $1 million since 2000. 414 settlements were for six figures or more.
  • More than half of the money paid by the city in settlements is for bodily injury: $112,394,033.06 out of a total $202,350,522.41
  • In 2005, someone recouped a $25,000 bodily injury settlement from the city after being hit with a golf ball.
  • A 2002 sewer backup won the claimant more than $2.5 million for lost property alone. (Its one of 92 settlements for sewer backups, totaling $6,365,371.98).
  • Legal costs also eat up a large proportion of the city’s settlement budget: more than $57,000,000 since 2000, or more than a quarter of the total cost of settling civil lawsuits incurred by the city in that time.
  • In 88 cases, the city had legal expenses in the six figures.