Comptroller Stringer Is Right – City Must Lower Outrageous Lawsuit Tab

New York may spend as much as $674 million this year to pay for lawsuits and other claims against the city. That figure may rise to $782 million over the next four years. Even in an era of $75 billion budgets, the annual cost of legal settlements is hardly chump change.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer has a plan that may help bring down the cost of payouts, or at least bring them under control. He’s not talking about tort reform. He’s talking about implementing what he calls an “early warning system” that will alert city agencies to potential problems that could lead to injuries and property damage. If it works, it would not only save the city money, it might save lives, too.

As The Observer reported, Mr. Stringer calls his plan ClaimStat, a self-conscious reference to the now-famous CompStat program, which the NYPD originated to identify criminal hot spots and to better assess crime-fighting strategies. Like CompStat, Mr. Stringer’s plan would use a database to identify trouble spots and better target resources.

It’s a creative, intelligent idea, one that deserves support from the Mayor’s office and other city agencies. While it’s unclear how ClaimStat would be implemented, there’s no question that Mr. Stringer has identified a problem—the rising cost of lawsuits against the city—and has thought outside the box in devising a potential solution. “Rising claims don’t have to be inevitable,” Mr. Stringer said.

No, they don’t. Under ClaimStat, city agencies would analyze patterns of claims against the city to determine problem areas. That could lead, for example, to a greater emphasis on checking trees for disease (falling limbs have led to massive lawsuits) or more accountability in police precincts where there are a high number of personal-injury claims against cops.

Mr. Stringer’s proposal demonstrates the sort of creative thinking we like to see in government, which so often is a prisoner to inertia and precedent. The city has both a fiscal and a moral obligation to make sure that potentially dangerous conditions are identified when they can be and are dealt with before anybody gets hurt. That could mean removing a tree from a park. That could mean removing a police officer from patrol.

Official reaction to Mr. Stringer’s proposal has been tepid. Hopefully, as the Comptroller elaborates on his plan, city agencies will realize their obligation to be pro-active in the interests of fiscal sanity and personal safety.