Claimants Against New York Get a Boost From Comptroller

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The New York Sun

Even as New York City faces billion-dollar budget gaps, Comptroller William Thompson Jr. is making it easier for New Yorkers to sue the city over property damage incurred during last year’s storm flooding.

Mr. Thompson, a likely candidate for mayor, announced yesterday that he is taking the unusual step of extending by six months the deadline for claimants to take legal action for losses from the flooding, which his office says was triggered by storms last April, July, and August.

The Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the city’s water and sewage systems, has told the comptroller’s office that the city was not responsible for the flooding damage, which primarily affected residents of Staten Island and Queens.

Mr. Thompson said yesterday that he is going to try to find a way to compensate New Yorkers for their losses nonetheless.

“Just sending them a letter back that says, ‘It’s an act of God,’ somehow just doesn’t seem right. So we are working here to try and see — is there anything that can be done? Is there something a little bit more equitable for people?” he said yesterday during an interview with The New York Sun.

Mr. Thompson stopped short of saying that the city is responsible for the damage caused by the flooding, stating that he’s “not going to say that the city has liability in this case.”

Mr. Thompson said the extension is not an open call to sue the city, but rather would give him more time to try to reach an equitable solution for people who lost possessions during the flooding, thus avoiding costly litigation.

When asked whether having the city write a check to residents who experienced flood damage was the solution, he said: “That is one of the things we are thinking about.”

Tort claims against the city must be filed with the comptroller’s office within 90 days of the incident in question. Claimants then have one year to file a legal action against the city. Under Mr. Thompson’s extension, which he has the authority to grant under the city’s administrative code, claimants will have one and a half years to sue.

He said he has extended the deadline before, but an aide to the comptroller said she could not immediately provide examples of those cases. The comptroller’s office oversees all claims against the city.

An average of 24,000 claims are filed each year, according to figures published by Mr. Thompson’s office.

A spokesman for the mayor, Stuart Loeser, declined to comment on the extension, as did the city’s Law Department.

The director of the Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute, James Copland, said the normal time frame in which to file lawsuits should be honored, and he cautioned against giving people more time to sue the city, given its fiscal position.

The city is projecting multibillion-dollar budget gaps in future years, and Mayor Bloomberg has said that property taxes might have to be raised this year to address falling revenues.

Mr. Copland said he thinks the city is in a position to win any lawsuits filed against it in this case.

“It’s not clear to me that there is a tenable legal claim against the city. What you have is flood damage. It’s far from clear to me how the city is at fault for any of that. It’s an act of God,” he said. “Basically, what you’ve got is the comptroller unilaterally going out there and saying, ‘We are going to try to cut deals to pay a bunch of folks out of the city coffers for damage that the city is not liable for.'”

He said it’s possible the city wants to do something for people who suffered losses during the flooding, but said that such a decision should be made by the City Council and not by Mr. Thompson single-handedly.

A flood on April 15, 2007, which hit properties on Staten Island, led to 64 claims being filed with the comptroller’s office requesting some $1.3 million in damages.

Flooding on July 17 and 18 of last year led to 348 claims, nearly all of which were filed by Queens residents, seeking about $10.8 million. A flood on August 8, 2007, led to 888 claims being filed with the comptroller for $16.4 million. Nearly all of those claims came from Queens.

The New York Sun

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