ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – When people drive on the road or take a city bus, there’s always a risk something could go wrong. So when it does, how often is the city liable?
As KRQE News 13 discovered on Special Assignment, the price the public pays for some of these accidents might be surprising.
When accidents involve city property or city workers hurt on the job, it’s often the public that pays the price.
In one case from January, a woman exiting a City of Albuquerque bus tripped and fell. Her foot was caught under the moving wheelchair ramp.
Video shows the woman was on her cell phone before the fall, as someone shouted, “whoa, whoa!”
According to the incident report, the woman refused transport to the hospital and took the Rail Runner back to Santa Fe. However, she later filed a claim and the city paid out $25,000 for her injury.
“It could be a car accident, it could be property damage, it could be a slip trip and fall on a sidewalk, it could be any number of things,” explained Peter Ennen, Risk Manager for the City of Albuquerque.
It’s cases like this where the City of Albuquerque’s Risk Management Division comes in.
“If someone feels they’ve been damaged by some action or inaction of the city, they can file a claim,” said Ennen.
KRQE News 13 wanted to know which cases in the past year cost the city the most money. According to records, the most expensive categories are worker’s comp claims and auto accidents.
“The city has 4,000 vehicles and 5,000 drivers so we’re involved in a lot of things out on the road,” Ennen explained. “We interact in so many different ways that we create liability just by coming to work in the morning.”
The city paid $29,717.99 to a driver after a city bus backed into his car. Then, there’s a number of crashes involving Albuquerque police officers.
The city is paying officer Johnathan McDonnell in an open worker’s comp claim for injuries he suffered in a crash that killed a 6-year-old boy back in April.
Investigators said McDonnell was on a call driving nearly 80 mph in a 40 mph zone seconds before his police cruiser plowed into a family’s car at an intersection.
Since it’s an open worker’s comp claim, the city wouldn’t disclose the dollar amount already paid out to McDonnell for the crash.
“I really can’t talk about that case very much,” Ennen told KRQE.
While McDonnell’s worker’s comp claim remains open, the city will likely face a wrongful death lawsuit.
Then there are other not-so-well-known cases that prove costly.
The city paid $48,369 for a citizen’s injuries after an officer caused a crash last year. According to the report, a female APD officer over-corrected, running into another car and guardrail on I-40.
She told investigators that right before the crash she was attempting to log onto her patrol car computer.
In two cases on the list of expensive claims, officers were hit by suspects, forcing the city to pick up the tab.
Last year when Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies tried to stop suspected armed carjackers, the suspects ran a red light, plowing into an APD officer. The APD officer who was hit was not involved in the pursuit.
The city paid $20,853.79 just to fix the squad car, plus more in workman’s comp for the officer’s injuries.
Then in February, police said DWI suspect Gerard Martinez caused a “city block worth of damage” on Menaul when he rear-ended a police car and crashed into light poles.
That cost taxpayers $20,949.74.
“We pay for it and then we do everything we can to recover from the person who caused the damage,” said Ennen. But he admits, that doesn’t always work.
Each department in city hall pays into the risk management budget, which ultimately traces back to Albuquerque taxpayers.
In a given year, Ennen said the city handles 2,000 to 3,000 claims. Some claims are considered frivolous.
“A guy goes to the city pool with his kids and his son throws his telephone in the pool and he tries to claim that it’s our responsibility,” Ennen explained.
Each claim filed with the city is investigated. Some, however, are tougher to tell who is at fault.
“Often we’re making an economic settlement,” Ennen explained. “So if we have a claim that it looks like to carry this thing all the way through the courts would cost us $50,000 and we can settle it for $5,000, in a lot of cases will make that decision. Not always, but in some cases yes.”
The city’s risk manager said last year it saw the lowest amount of claims on record. Ennen attributes the low number to increased transparency about what a claim is and how to file one, which can be found on the city’s website.
Claims KRQE requested through a Public Records Request. Anyone can submit a public records request to the City of Albuquerque through this website nextrequest.cabq.gov
Worker’s Compensation Claims
Loss Date: 07/06/2016
Description: Other driver failed to yield right of way, ran into APD Officer Brett Lampris Tremba’s patrol car on Montgomery.
Amount Paid: City paid officer paid $1,274.83 for injuries
Loss Date: 4/17/2017
Description: Multiple injuries due to motor vehicle crash involving APD Officer Jonathan McDonnell
Auto Liability Claims
Loss Date: 02/06/2017
Description: APD Officer rear-ended by speeding DWI suspect.
Amount Paid: City paid $20,949.74
Loss Date: 01/18/2017
Description: City of Albuquerque bus backed into claimant’s vehicle.
Amount Paid: City paid $29,717.99
Loss Date: 01/04/2017
Description: Woman exiting city bus got foot caught on wheelchair ramp as it was deployed.
Amount Paid: City paid $25,000
Loss Date: 12/22/2016
Description: APD officer struck by driver at intersection on Louisiana and Central.
Amount Paid: City paid $20,799.94
Loss Date: 10/21/2016
Description: Armed carjacking suspects pursued by BCSO ran red light, crashed into APD officer patrol car.
Amount Paid: City paid $20,853.79
Loss Date: 10/14/2016
Description: APD Officer tried to brake, over-corrected and struck claimant.
Amount Paid: City paid $48,369
Loss Date: 09/28/2016
Description: City vehicle was changing lanes when traffic stopped suddenly. City vehicle rear-ended claimant causing a chain reaction of vehicles in front of her.
Amount Paid: City paid $26,244.18
Loss Date: 07/31/2016
Description: APD officer running code attempting to clear an intersection when officer collided with other vehicle, causing it to strike another vehicle.
Amount Paid: City paid $14,778.11