San Diego

San Diego Paid $31.2M Over 5 Years to Settle Claims Involving City-Owned Vehicles: Report

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The city of San Diego paid $31.2 million over a five-year period to settle claims stemming from vehicle accidents involving city-owned vehicles, according to an audit recently released by the city auditor's office.

The city isn’t adequately tracking unsafe driving before crashes happen and didn’t complete crash investigations after the fact, concluded the report. It also found the city didn’t require new hires to review all driving policies.

“This is not news to me,” said San Diego personal injury attorney Brett Schreiber. “I have been fighting this fight for two decades.”

Schreiber said he has taken on more than a dozen cases involving city vehicles in just the last decade. The city rarely admits fault, he said, until a court order exposes a more incriminating, internal review.

“It just simply comes down to a failure to have any kind of internal accountability,” Schreiber said. “This is truly a breach of the public trust.”

The report referenced accidents that occurred between fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2021, including a 2019 crash that resulted in a $16 million payout after a woman was severely injured when a police officer crashed into her while she was riding a motorcycle.

Of the 2,853 accidents that were investigated, 1,458 of them were determined to be preventable, the report stated. Nearly all of the preventable accidents involved six city departments: police, public utilities, fire-rescue, transportation & stormwater, parks and recreation, and environmental services.

“One of the big red flags,” Schreiber said. “Is that it really is a smaller number of bad actors, and that’s consistent with what we’ve seen.”

Among the city auditor's recommendations were to ensure data on city vehicles that measures speed, braking and seatbelt use are regularly reviewed. The report stated that city supervisors rarely conduct such reviews — which are required by city policy — and that "there is no citywide process in place" to ensure that they do.

“I am unfortunately intimately familiar with the systemic failures that exist within the city of San Diego,” Schreiber said, "and I am happy to see that at least now there is some light being shined on it. And, hopefully, there will be some public officials within our city who will finally demand the accountability that this report is calling for.”

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