Legal claims hurt Yakima's budget

Legal claims hurt Yakima's budget

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima shells out hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to people who sue the city. Claims vary but some departments are at the center of the complaints more often.

Action News learned hundreds of thousands of dollars drain out of the city's budget each year from legal claims.

Attorney Helen Harvey handles the city's claims. She says they're unavoidable especially in certain departments.

Reporter: "Would you consider the payouts on these claims to be taxpayer waste or just a part of running the city?"
Harvey: "I think it's part of running the city."

"Police have a very high risk environment," Harvey said. "First of all, they have well over 100 officers on the street and they do get a number of claims each year brought by people who they arrest."

Harvey says false arrests and excessive force are the most common against police.
Action News learned there was one of each this year, but both were dismissed.

Two of the other more frequent claims have to do with streets and sidewalks. Take for example, running your car over a pothole or even tripping on a city sidewalk.

The cost of a trip or fall could be up to $100,000.

In August, Yakima paid a man two grand after he ran over a speed bump.

So far this year, the city has paid more than $210,000 for 82 claims.

That compares to $260,000 for the same time period in 2011 for 112 claims.

Action News learned while the average number of claims has remained consistent for the last 15 years, the population has risen nearly 40 percent.

Yakima employees are required to take a training course designed to limit the expense. It's one way to curb what Harvey says will always be inevitable.

Many claims are also brought against Yakima's Wastewater Division.

All of the payouts come from the city's risk management budget.