If Oklahoma Is Negligent, Motorists Get Compensated

March 2, 2010

For the drivers whose vehicles were damaged by concrete falling from an Interstate 44 bridge in Oklahoma recently, Tulsa resident Robin Cameron knows what might lie ahead.

On Christmas Day 2008, Cameron and her daughter drove over an open manhole on the Broken Arrow Expressway. The accident jarred the car, blowing out the front passenger-side tire of her Hyundai Tiburon and causing $1,180 in damages, ODOT data show.

“It was scary,” Cameron said. “Scare-ry.”

Motorists who believe that they suffered injury or property damage because of Oklahoma Department of Transportation negligence, can file a claim request with the state.

If approved, ODOT compensates drivers for damages.

Since 2005, ODOT has awarded 212 motorists more than $465,000 total in damage compensation, according to a Tulsa World analysis of a department database.

Most of the payments followed situations in which an ODOT vehicle dropped material or hit a vehicle. Other situations include roadside lawnmowers shooting rocks into traffic, fresh paint spraying vehicles or potholes damaging cars.

Since 2005, ODOT awarded five drivers compensation after an object fell from a bridge, data show. One incident was in Tulsa County.

After Cameron’s accident, she filed a claim request with ODOT, which oversees the roadway. She submitted details of the accident, two cost estimates for repairs and even the officer’s name who worked the scene.

About three months later, ODOT paid Cameron for the damages. “They paid it to the penny,” she said.

An ODOT database shows that the state compensated four drivers in Tulsa County for running into an open manhole that day, though Cameron said at least seven other vehicles struck the hole while she was on site.

About 10 vehicles were damaged last week when a portion of an I-44 bridge deck fell to the ramp bordering 161st East Avenue. Most suffered flat tires or bent rims.

Since 2005, ODOT has compensated 16 people involved in accidents in Tulsa County. The department compensated 15 people involved in accidents in Oklahoma County, data show.

The amount ODOT pays depends on the extent of the damage.

In the past five year years, ODOT has paid drivers an average of $2,195 per incident, according to a Tulsa World analysis.

The top recipient of recent years was a Rogers County man who was compensated in 2009 for what was characterized as “dangerous interchange-failure to warn.” He received $62,500.

But no matter the accident’s severity, claimants must show that the department was negligent, said Norman Hill, ODOT’s general counsel.

For example, if ODOT failed to replace a manhole cover that it knew was missing, then the department likely would pay the claim.

In Cameron’s case, she said the manhole was left open for more than 13 hours before she struck it.

But if ODOT was unaware of the problem or didn’t have a reasonable amount of time to fix it, it’s unlikely the state would pay for damages, Hill said.

“You have to show negligence,” said Terri Angier, ODOT spokeswoman.

The department dismissed some of the 2,000-plus claims it received since 2005 with little investigation, Hill said.

He said claimants often mistake city-owned roads for those overseen by ODOT or private property such as signs and light poles for ODOT property.

“We’re not an insurance company,” Hill said.

Other claims provide so little information that ODOT can’t investigate them.

“Give us a tag number, give us a truck number, give us a location, give us a time,” Hill said.

Then there are claims no one expects.

In January of last year, a woman requested $175,000 in compensation after ice caused an accident in Washington County, data show.

Years before, an ODOT truck hit a man’s chickens as they crossed the road. He wanted $50 for each dead animal, Hill said.

A farmer once complained that ODOT construction noise 10 miles away prevented his ostriches from mating. He also wanted compensation.

Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.