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SF Paid $71 Million in Settlements Last Year

by Larry Bush on 04/10/2011

in Paper Trails

“Accidents will happen.”

And settlements and lawsuits will follow as flowers follow Spring showers.

That much at least is clear from the City Attorney’s tally of settled claims against city departments in the past fiscal year.

A short reader’s quiz:

What could the city do if it weren’t paying out tens of millions in settlements?

  1. Create two police academy classes just from two settlements at the Police Department
  2. Forego the new adminission fee at the Botanical Garden for three years just from one case (as Supervisor John Avalos is urging)
  3. Roll back the stepped up parking enforcement as Assessor (and mayoral candidate) Phil Ting is urging?
  4. Drop the idea of a fee on every single family home to make up Muni’s shortfall?
  5. All of the above.

It’s not CitiReport readers who don’t know the answers, but it may well be the city’s department heads and leadership.

In all, the last fiscal year saw more than 3,000 settlements of claims against the city. Some were for as little as $20 (and you wonder how much staff time was taken up just in processing that one), and the top payout was $7.5 million in the John Tennison claim at the Police Department.

A quick calculation is that this is about one settled case every three hours, night and day, seven days a week, holidays included.

The city went to bat — and to court — resulting in $56.7 million in final settlements. About one-quarter of the total, $14,282,000 were paid in direct response to claims. At least in the City Attorney’s office, the easy pickings are far outnumbered by cases that involve litigation.

Over one-third of all settlements were due to claims at the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which racked up $27,554,041.82, according to the City Attorney. This year that figure might grow higher, considering the agency is now settling a case for $6 million.

The largest share of the MTA caseload was from Muni itself ($25.3 million), but other operations – including the bicycle program – came in for a share.

One Muni case along came to $7 million. Other cases that broke the $1 million mark included $3.25 million, $2.02 million, and $1.25 million. During the year, Muni had to make good on 777 claims against it.

While the Police Department came in second at $11.5 million, $9.9 million of that came from just two cases –John Tennison and Carlos Garcia.

The Public Utilities Commission ran up $8,751,459.92 but taxpayers – somewhere – got some of that back after $7 million had to be paid to the “United States of America.”

The Department of Public Works broke the $11 million mark, and it looks like a lot of cars must have hit potholes, been scraped by DPW equipment or faced avoidable sewer damage. One street cleaning case by itself was settled for $1.75 million.

And that Recreation and Park tally?  It was $1,604,605.

Readers are welcome to hunt through the data (posted here in excel), where you can find that a “Frank Jordan” received $250 for a claim against the Public Utilities Commission and that the agency also paid several thousands in all for claims against it by Pacific Gas and Electric.

It is also possible to sort the data by the name of the law firm that filed against the city, when that is how the claim was resolved, to see which law firm does the best against San Francisco – and which ones got the claims settled without a lawsuit and which cases had to be litigated.


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