City shelled out $458M in '06 for personal injury settlements Tuesday, September 4th 2007, 4:00 AM On a March afternoon two years ago, city sanitation driver Tommy Puma ignored safety rules and backed his salt spreader up a Queens street, crushing a grandmother under the wheels and dragging her 40 feet. Maria Noto lost her leg - and with it, her Thursday nights out dancing with her husband, weekly trips to Atlantic City and visits to her siblings' homes around the city. "My life is finished," said Noto, 57. "I can't do nothing." Just as thousands of other New Yorkers do every year, Noto sued the city. About nine of every 10 claims filed against the city are for personal injuries, a recent report from city Controller William Thompson shows. New York shelled out $458 million in the 2006 budget year for personal injury settlements, judgments and claims. Even though payouts can hit eight figures, they rarely make headlines. Noto reached a $5 million settlement with the city in May - one of the top payouts in the 2007 budget year, a list provided to the Daily News from Thompson's office shows. The deal wasn't entirely satisfactory for Noto. Though Puma was reprimanded in connection with the incident, he kept his $57,000-a-year job, the city Law Department said. "That's not right," Noto said. "My life is almost dead, and he's still working. He ruined my life." Reached through a union representative and at his home, Puma declined comment. Of the top 23 payouts this year, 11 were to patients injured at the city's public hospitals. All but one involved births that went wrong. The city's biggest check - $16 million - went to former Calvin Klein pattern maker Unjoo Paek, who suffered a devastating brain injury when she tripped over the stump of a sheared-off SoHo traffic pole in February 1996. A jury awarded her $21 million in 2002. The city appealed, and a settlement was reached. Among the other top payouts: $4 million to the estate of Eva Barrientos, a sanitation worker and Brooklyn mother of three who was crushed to death by the arm of her truck in February 2004. $6.5 million to Adelaide LaPiedra, the widow of FDNY Capt. Scott LaPiedra. He died in July 1998, about a month after a floor collapsed while he was fighting a fire and he plummeted into the flames below. $3 million to Lev Liberman, a Ukrainian immigrant who was mauled by wild dogs as he jogged along the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk in December 2001. He lost both ears. $3 million to John Shields Jr., a Long Island man whose knee and back were injured when his car was hit by a Sanitation Department plow in December 2002, his lawyer, Jeffrey Block, said. $9 million to Tina Evans, who lost her legs in the 2003 Staten Island ferry disaster, and $4 million to William Castro, whose wife, Debra, died in the disaster. $3 million to the estate of Ousame Zongo, a West African immigrant shot and killed by NYPD Officer Bryan Conroy in May 2003. $3.5 million to Daisey Vega, badly injured when she fell off a swing at a Bronx playground in 1999.