In the first three months of 2013, Yakima and its insurers paid out about $130,000 to settle 10 claims, and closed another 27 claims without having to pay anything, according to the city’s quarterly claims report, which will be submitted to the Yakima City Council at its Tuesday meeting.
Two claims — a sewer backup and a personal injury claim — account for nearly all of the financial settlements.
The injury claim was settled in January with a $100,000 payment, which was paid entirely by one of the city’s insurers, the Washington State Transit Insurance Pool. The case stems to March 2010, when an elderly woman fell while boarding a Dial-a-Ride vehicle, a service operated by a Yakima Transit contractor for people with disabilities that prevent them from using a standard bus.
The claim contended the woman’s fall resulted from not being properly helped into the vehicle. While the city’s insurer paid, the city did not admit fault.
“These payments are just to settle the claims. No one has to admit liability,” said Helen Harvey, the senior assistant city attorney who handles claims against Yakima.
Yakima also paid more than $18,000 for damages after a sewer backed up into a resident’s basement last year.
Roots and grease had clogged part of the sewer that is the city’s responsibility, she said.
To make sure it didn’t happen again, the city’s wastewater division started inspecting and cleaning that sewer section twice a year, instead of the annual schedule it had been on, Harvey said.
“If they see issues that need to be addressed, they do address them and try to exercise good management,” she said.
When a claim is filed against the city, its legal department, an insurance adjuster and any department named in the claim review it to see if any city operations need to be changed, Harvey said.
“They take the claims very seriously in terms of what they can do,” she said.
That attentiveness appears to be paying off, because while Yakima has grown by about 25,000 residents since the late 1990s, the number of claims filed against it have fallen from a high of 192 in 1997 down to 101 last year. As of April 5, only 21 claims have been filed against the city this year.