City of Ottawa paid $14.5M to settle legal claims last year

The City of Ottawa spent $14.5 million to settle legal claims in 2015, a cost that has risen in each of the last five years and has nearly tripled since 2011.

Cost of settling lawsuits on the rise, nearly tripling over 4 years

The city of Ottawa settles between 500 and 600 legal claims a year. In 2015 the payout totalled $14.5. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

The City of Ottawa spent $14.5 million to settle legal claims in 2015, a cost that has risen in each of the last five years and has nearly tripled since 2011.

The city's legal department settles between 500 and 600 legal claims from the public every year. The bulk of the caseload is small claims for property damage.

While the city faces relatively few personal injury claims, those cost far more to settle.

People sue over slips and falls on city sidewalks, for injuries sustained while riding public transit or when they're struck by a city vehicle, among other reasons. 

In 2011, the City of Ottawa spent $5.7 million to settle claims made by the public, $1.7 million of which went to settle just eight personal injury claims of over $100,000 each.

Contrast that with 2015, when the city spent $14.5 million, including $10 million on 21 of those larger injury claims.

There is no specific reason for the upward trend, said the city's solicitor, Rick O'Connor.

"The potential for significant delays between the resolution of a claim and the events giving rise to it make it inherently difficult to identify root causes as to why there may be an increase in the number or value of claims," he wrote.

People can file claims up to 24 months after the incident, and the civil process can also take time, he added.

Single settlement can skew tally

"A single large claim can significantly affect the overall total," O'Connor explained.

Ottawa publishes more comprehensive data on legal settlements than do most other cities, according to the municipality.

Through those reports CBC could see that last year alone the city settled a $1.2-million claim for a slip or fall, another for $1.5 million for someone injured on public transit, and a $3-million settlement in a collision involving a city vehicle.

The city's deductible on its liability insurance is $3 million, and amounts above that are paid by the city's insurer.

For confidentiality reasons, the city doesn't disclose individual settlements, but one of the large settlements in 2015 would have been paid to Karen Toop, a woman who survived being hit by a snow plow four years earlier.

The City of Ottawa is currently dealing with 36 lawsuits served against it related to the 2013 crash between an OC Transpo bus and Via Rail train.

It has so far paid out $2.11 million to resolve eight of those suits.

In total, the city faces $26 million in damages over the crash.