Defunding the police may still happen, and it could be skyrocketing liability insurance costs that do it.
Case in point is the Wilkes-Barre Police Department, now facing a tripling in their police liability insurance costs due to a wave of citizens lawsuits – everything from K-9 dog attacks to a woman who had her leg amputated after being hit by a suspect during a high-speed police chase.
In a detailed story linking increased public pushback on police conduct to soaring insurance costs, the Citizens Voice obtained information on all claims filed against the city from 2017 through present. This after Bill Joyce, of insurance brokerage firm Joyce Insurance Group, announced the city would have to pay $173,995 more in premiums this year based on the company’s five-year review of losses on those policies.
Joyce said the city’s insurance carriers paid out on average $2 for every $1 the city paid the carriers in premiums over that time, prompting the dramatic price hike.
Currently, the total cost of premiums for all of Wilkes-Barrie’s policies is $691,463.
The insurance policy that experienced the biggest premium increase this year was for law enforcement liability. The annual premium shot up from $63,714 to $183,347, and that was after increasing the city’s deductible for each claim from $25,000 last year to $50,000 this year, the Citizens Voice reports.
The biggest driver of the increase was a single civil rights lawsuit claiming a police K9 mauled a man in July 2017, the newspaper reports, adding: The lawsuit filed by Joshua Fought, 48, of Berwick, against K-9 officer Joseph Homza and other city officials has cost $408,232 and counting.
The expense contributed to the $1.42 million the city’s police insurance has paid out on 18 police lawsuits and claims over the past five years. Meanwhile, Wilkes-Barre police paid $310,699 in premiums over the same period, the newspaper investigation found. (Details on more costly police lawsuits below)
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Other police lawsuits driving up coverage costs included the case of an 8-year-old girl injured by a police K9 while visiting the home of an officer in 2018. The police dog scratched the girl at a gathering at the officer’s home. The insurance carrier has assigned an incurred loss of $110,000 to the still-open claim, the newspaper wrote.
Another costly claim stemmed from the high-speed police pursuit of a driver who then struck Angela Velasquez, of Kingston, while crossing the street in February 2021. She had one of her legs amputated as a result. The insurance carrier lists the total cost of the unsettled claim as $250,000.