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OGC 2: Procedure For Handling Small Claims

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

DEC Program Policy

Issuing Authority: Frank V. Bifera, General Counsel
Title: Procedure for Handling Small Claims
Date Issued: December 9, 1997
Latest Date Revised:

Abstract: Procedure for handling small claims.

I. Purpose

This memo sets forth the procedure for handling small claims.

II. Responsibility

The Division of Legal Affairs ("DLA") in Central Office oversees the processing of all small claims for the Department. Each Regional Office is responsible for commencing the procedure, conducting an investigation and rendering an initial determination concerning claims that arise in its region.


Small claims are divided into two categories: (1) claims not exceeding $5,000 pursuant to §8 (12-a) of the State Finance Law for personal injuries or property damage resulting from tortious conduct of State employees (hereinafter referred to as "a" claims and (2) claims for personal property of State employees, damaged or destroyed in the performance of official duties without the fault or negligence of the employee, pursuant to union contracts and the applicable subdivisions of §8 of the State Finance Law (hereinafter referred to as "b" claims.)

Enclosed is a claim/release form (one side is the claim, and the other side is the release) and a standard voucher that are referenced in the procedure outlined below:

  1. When a claim is presented, the claimant should be instructed to complete a standard voucher and four (4) claim and release forms for "a" claims or a standard voucher and four (4) release forms for "b" claims.
  2. Because small claims are paid from DEC funds, as opposed to Court of Claims funds, a DEC cost center must be provided on the voucher. Normally, this is the cost center of the DEC activity from which the claim arose.
  3. If the claim is submitted from a non-DEC employee but the claim arose from the actions of a DEC employee, it must be determined whether these actions were tortious (i.e., negligent or otherwise wrongful). If the actions are deemed tortious, this constitutes a just claim. If the claim is for damages to the property of a DEC employee, it must be determined whether negligence of the employee was a contributing factor. If there is no evidence of negligence on the part of the employee, this is a just claim.

    If it is not a just claim, the Regional or Central Office attorney should advise the claimant of this determination in writing and address any follow-up questions the claimant may have. If the claimant is dissatisfied with the Department's determinations, it is possible he or she will pursue it in the Court of Claims.

    Various documentation is needed to assist in making these determinations to approve or deny a claim. If the claim involves an accident, an accident report should be submitted. If an insurance investigator or Department of Law investigator has prepared a report, that report should be obtained. If the claim is for damage to the property of a Department employee, the employee's supervisor should provide a statement verifying the incident. In general, any and all facts or reasons known to staff as to why the claim should or should not be paid, should be submitted.
  4. In accordance with the policy of the Attorney General's office for payment of claims, two estimates of costs to repair the damage(s) incurred or replace an article in a like condition must be provided. Note that the Attorney General will only approve claims equaling the lowest estimate, therefore, it is the lowest estimate dollar amount that should be provided on the standard voucher and other applicable form(s). Additionally, information as to availability of compensation from other sources such as automobile insurance should be supplied.
  5. Completed forms, estimates, statements and reports should be sent as a package to the Division of Legal Affairs, 14th Floor, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-1500.

    Upon receipt, the papers will be reviewed and forwarded to appropriate counsel for a final determination on payment of the claim.
  6. As required by law, the executed claim forms and back-up documentation for "a" claims over $250.00 are then forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General for approval. "A" claims no greater than $250.00 and all "b" claims are reviewed in DLA, Central Office, in consultation with the personnel office, as appropriate.
  7. Approved claims are forwarded to the Division of Management and Budget Services ("DMB") to be processed for payment. DMB then sends the claims to the Office of the State Comptroller ("OSC") for an audit. If approved, OSC will mail a check to the claimant.

As can be seen from the above discussion, the process is lengthy. However, it can be greatly expedited by submission of properly completed forms and appropriate supporting documentation.

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