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Municipal Tort Reform

Thursday June 2002


Michael A. Cardozo, Esq. Corporation Counsel, The City of New York

Welcoming Remarks: Judyth W. Pendell, Director, Center for Legal Policy
Introductory Remarks: Henry Stern, Director, New York Civic

In 1978, tort claims cost New York City $21.4 million. Last year, the City paid out $581 million—$132 million more than in 2000. The latest payout is well over three times the expense budget for the Parks and Recreation Department and greater than the entire city budget of Fort Worth, Texas. While city agencies are reducing their budgets, the amount spent on tort claims continues to spiral upward, although there is no evidence that city employees are becoming more careless.

Claims against the City range from falls on city streets or in public buildings, to the conduct of police officers and physicians in city hospitals, to criminals injured in the act of committing crimes. Even when the City is only partly responsible for injuries, it is often forced to pay the entire award due to imposition of joint and several liability. Effectively, tort claims against the City take money away from education, social services, and public safety initiatives.

This situation has prompted Mayor Bloomberg to petition the State Legislature and the City Council for legislation to curb inflated verdicts, end joint and several liability, and make property owners responsible for lawsuits resulting from sidewalk defects. Mr. Cardozo, a former president of the New York City Bar Association, makes the case for reform.