Dayton pays residents who claimed harm largest amount in years

Most people who allege damages or injuries caused by the city have the claims denied.

The nearly $1.8 million spent by Dayton in 2019 settling claims against the city amounted to more than the previous 11 years combined because of a payment related to a boy’s drowning at a city pool.

The city also made dozens of payments for thousands of dollars for automobile crashes involving city vehicles, flooded basements after infrastructure issues and damages from fallen tree limbs, potholes and mowing, towing and police operations.

But most citizens who allege damages or injuries and seek compensation from the city in what are called moral obligation claims have the claims denied.

Typically, the city only pays claims when it makes the legal conclusion it is responsible and obligated to under Ohio law, said John Musto, Dayton’s chief trial counsel. He said the city generally does a good job of limiting liability exposure, and keeping claims under control, and keeping its employees and citizens safe.

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“I would say, overall, we do a very good job of managing the assets we have,” Musto said. “The goal is not just to avoid liability, but we don’t want see citizens injured — that’s our first and foremost goal.”

Dayton paid $62,228 in claims in 2018, which officials said is impressive considering the city has nearly 2,000 employees and a general fund budget more than $180 million.

Since 2005, the city has made nearly 900 payments for moral obligation claims with a combined value of nearly $4 million, according to city data obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

The median payment during that time frame was $500. Dozens of payments, however, were for $5,000 or more.

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Two of the five largest payments since the mid-2000s took place in 2019.

Four of the five largest distributions have happened since 2017, and all were to settle lawsuits or anticipated legal actions that alleged negligence or fault by the city.

The moral obligation process is the city’s internal claims process that gives citizens a way to seek compensation when they believe the city is responsible for property damage or injuries, city officials said.

The city’s largest payment was $1.5 million that went to the estate of 6-year-old Niguel Hamilton, who drowned in an indoor pool at the Lohrey Recreation Center in July 2018.

Attorneys for the boy’s family previously said the staff on duty should have been able to prevent the tragedy with proper care, training and attention.

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2019 was an expensive year

The Hamilton settlement was one of 63 such claims the city paid in 2019, which combined had a total value of nearly $1.8 million — making it an expensive year for settlements, city data show.

Between 2005 and 2018, the city’s annual moral obligation settlements and distributions ranged from between $50,599 to $451,705, city data show.

Last year, the city also agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a University of Dayton student who was struck by a city fire truck while riding his bicycle on Brown Street.

The payment, tied for the fourth largest since 2005, went to Quinton Kane, who was run over and trapped under a fire engine after it turned into a gas station parking lot.

Last year, the city also approved a $23,100 payment to BHA Piano Center on South Patterson Boulevard, after the business' basement area flooded. Damages were blamed on a water main break, city records show.

Dayton also agreed to pay $14,000 to settle a lawsuit from Cheryl Chaffin, whose vehicle was rear-ended by a city of Dayton dump truck on East Fifth Street.

Chaffin said she and her daughter were both injured in the crash, and her lawsuit claimed the city employee behind the wheel did not have a valid licence.

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The city paid also out more than $35,000 for claims related to auto accidents involving city vehicles, not counting Chaffin’s and Kane’s settlements.

Payments were for mirrors that city vehicles knocked off parked cars. An unmarked police car dinged a resident’s automobile. City trucks that were engaged in “de-icing” operations struck citizens’ cars.

Damages downstairs

In February, the city’s Pheasant Ridge pump station lost power during a rain storm.

A backup generator temporarily provided power but ran out of fuel before crews could arrive to refill it, city officials said.

The power failure resulted in 14 homes experiencing a sewer back-up. The city provided courtesy basement cleanings, at citizens’ request, officials said.

The city also agreed to pay David and Elizabeth Hanson $10,000 for damages to the basement of their home on Buell Lane resulting from the back-up.

The city made four additional payments, ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 each, for basement damage to other homes on Buell Lane that were blamed on the pump station failure.

Lisa Corley, 54, received $4,500 from the city for damage to her basement related to a separate issue.

Corley said she moved into her home on the 2600 block of Gettysburg Avenue about a year ago, and soon after, her basement started flooding.

At times, the water that pooled downstairs was 2 feet high and included raw sewage.

Corley said she contacted the city many times to try to fix the problem.

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City workers eventually identified the source of the trouble as a faulty drain in the back alley, Corley said.

Corley said she submitted a moral obligation claim after learning about the process from city staff.

Corley said it wasn’t an easy process, and it took time. But she said in the end it definitely was helpful.

“I lost a lot of stuff that amount of money didn’t and couldn’t replace,” she said. “But the city did take responsibility and did take care of it.”

Just because a citizens’ property is damaged by a city worker, vehicle or city activities does not mean the city is on the hook for any damages or losses.

Every year, potholes in Dayton blow out tires or cause damage to vehicles of residents.

But the city will only pay a claim for damages if it knew about a pothole and did not repair it in a reasonable amount of time.

In 2019, the city paid just seven claims worth less than $2,500 for vehicle damage caused by potholes. The city last year received 54 claims related to potholes.

Factors used to determine whether the city is liable includes weather conditions and demands on road crews working during the relevant time frame, city officials say.

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Frances Hewitt, 71, says she filed a claim recently and hopes to receive compensation for a vehicle that was totaled after she was involved in a crash with a Dayton police cruiser in September 2017.

Hewitt was traveling west on Nicholas Road when a police vehicle headed south on Danner Avenue failed to yield in the right of way and struck her car, sending it spinning onto the side of the road, a crash report states.

Hewitt said she met with an attorney, but claims she was told the city had immunity and a lawsuit would not succeed.

Hewitt said the city was at fault and should reimburse her for the cost of car.

“The car was totalled, and I would like them to pay for that,” she said. “I know they were responsible.”

But many claims alleging property damage and injuries are denied.

Unsuccessful claims

Last year, the city received 152 claims and paid in 63 cases. Some claims are still pending.

Dayton received 142 claims in 2018 but made 52 payments. In 2017, Dayton received 112 claims and made 53 payments.

Musto said he cannot comment on specific claims or incidents. But he said the city receives some claims that city attorneys believe have no merit.

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Similar to insurance companies, the city reviews all submitted claims and issues payment when attorneys conclude the city is liable, said Musto.

Musto said the city often approves payments to avoid unnecessary litigation.

Public safety forces, like police, fire and paramedics, have immunity from many kinds of damage and injury claims when they are responding to emergencies, Musto said.

“It’s a higher standard,” he said. “It’s not a negligent standard: They have to show they were willful, wanton or reckless.”

Public safety forces get an extra level of protection from liability because it is in the public’s interest to have them respond quickly to emergencies, Musto said.

But city employees in general are good at avoiding problems that can lead to claims, and the city does a good job of taking care of its roadways, utility systems and other infrastructure, Musto said.

For example, he said, Dayton’s water department and sewer maintenance departments go above and beyond national standards for inspections and maintenance.

Other claims last year included a $1,430 payment to Heart Mercantile to compensate the Oregon District business after police tackled a suspect into the front window of the shop, causing damage.

The city made payments to a car owner whose vehicle was towed in error, a man who tripped and fell and a woman whose apartment was damaged after Dayton’s SWAT team deployed a chemical agent during a standoff.

Two in-house attorneys review and approve payments of any moral obligation claim, and the city also re-evaluates denied claims upon request, said Barbara Doseck, Dayton’s law director.

t to get their claims paid. They say

Dayton’s most expensive moral obligation claims*

2019: $1.5M to estate of 6-year-old boy who drowned in city pool

2007: $305,600 to city of Vandalia for water and aviation department dispute

2017: $200,000 to settle Ken’s Kars lawsuit alleging seized property

2017: $150,000 to settle lawsuit by UD student hit fire truck

2017: $150,000 to settle South Dayton Dump and Landfill pollution dispute

*These are most expensive claims since the mid-2000s

Sampling of Dayton’s most expensive moral obligation claims in 2019

$1.5M to estate of 6-year-old boy who drowned in city pool

$150,000 to settle lawsuit by UD student hit fire truck

$23,107 for damages to basement of BHA Piano

$14,000 to settle lawsuit after city truck rear-ended motorist

$10,000 for damages to a home on Buell Lane after a sewer back-up

$8,548 for payment of sick leave hours to widow of deceased firefighter

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