We’re frequently reminded of the MTA’s efforts to tighten security and keep us safe from terrorists; now the Daily News reports that errors in safety procedures have led to an alarming number of accidental injuries over the past several years. And victims are definitely saying something–at an average of $86.2 million in settlement payments per year, totaling $431 million over the last five years.
According to a NYC Transit report, the MTA has failed to fix “hazards on subway platforms citywide,” despite warnings and accidents like one in 2009 which a 19-year-old pre-med student lost part of both legs and injured a hand after falling onto the tracks due to an improperly painted subway platform. A study that took place several months prior to that incident had concluded that “major trip-and-fall dangers” existed at 23 of 27 stations reviewed. That case was settled by the MTA for $9 million last year–for a catastrophe that, according to the victim’s lawyer, “could have been avoided with a simple repair.”
4,592 such cases were settled or adjudicated by the agency for a total of $431 million over the past five years, according to records, including 88 lawsuits yielding payouts of at least $1 million. What’s more, individual cases aren’t reported and no review system exists to point out areas that have led to multiple legal payouts.
While the MTA is fighting lawsuits, cases may drag, and the agency has an incentive to keep the clock running. The state’s Public Authorities law allows NYC Transit to pay a three percent interest rate on any judgement issued while an appeal is pending–other litigants and agencies must pay nine percent while a judgement is pending. Delays can force injured plaintiffs to pay for medical treatment out of their own pockets while their cases play out in court and trial dates roll on into the future with no end in sight. In 2015 the MTA prevailed in 40 of 65 cases.
Transit officials claim they’re protecting the public interest by keeping costs down. But lengthy court cases may mean significantly larger settlements. According to Richard Gurfein, an attorney who won a $7.6 million award in 2013 for someone run over by a city bus 11 years prior, early settlements often save money and lengthy court cases cost taxpayers more. Records show that the amount paid out for lawsuits dropped by 13.2 percent last year–from $99.8 million in 2014 to $86.6 million in 2015.
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