The cost of carelessness

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — We all know accidents can happen, but did you know when a city employee is behind the wheel, most of the time it’s Richmond taxpayers who are left picking up the tab?

Whether it is a flipped police car after a hot pursuit, a garbage truck into a homeowner’s fence or a snowplow slides into a parked car, in the city of Richmond, if they crash it, it puts a dent in your wallet.

While you might think insurance covers these damages, the City of Richmond is self-insured for claims under $1.5 million dollars. So, for many of the crashes and dings the taxpayer ends up writing the check.

8News found the cost of carelessness can really add up.

“Wood work down, shingles down, crumbled stones,” Richmond homeowner Dustin Artz describes the damage to his garage after a city trash truck turning into an alley cut the corner too close and took off part of the roof. “We look out the window and there’s all these guys like, ‘uh oh,’ scrambling around.”

This kind of thing happens more than you may think. 8News combed through the city’s liability claims for the last three years from backing up into parked cars to taking out mailboxes and sideswiping a shed, we calculated more than 170 fender benders, scratches and dings by city drivers. The total racked up nearly half a million dollars in accident payouts.

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“It doesn’t surprise me because of how routine the mess seemed and how they didn’t make a deal out of it,” Artz said.

When it comes to the city’s 2600 vehicles, it may be no surprise many of the accidents involve police and fire en route to an emergency. But 8News found the majority of the claims come from the city’s trash trucks. Similar to Artz’s experience, we found numerous reports of garbage trucks struggling to navigate the city’s narrow alleys and streets.

A homeowner on the city’s northside tells us a trash truck put a hole in her shed and damaged her neighbors fence in one big sweep. Another homeowner in the near west end told us her SUV has been hit twice by a passing garbage truck causing thousands of dollars in damages both times.

Some of the mishaps we found have Richmonders like Artz really shaking their heads. We discovered in two separate incidents, city workers reported their boot got caught between the gas pedal and brake, causing them to collide into parked cars … A boot blunder costing taxpayers nearly $13,000.

“Oh, that’s great, that’s great,” laughs Artz.

Sometimes city workers slam into each other. We discovered an officer’s car door was damaged when he struck a fellow officer: An $800 error.

Artz tells us getting these mistakes repaired can be a hassle. He says had to call around, get estimates, hire contractors and then wait to get reimbursed.

“The city leaves a number or they mail you a letter, the letter says call this number,” Artz explained. “You have to do all the legwork after they messed up.”

8News requested an interview with the city, but they declined to go on camera with us. Officials did however tell us all city drivers have to go through a driver’s training course. We’re also told there is ongoing and seasonal training for trash truck drivers, snow plows and leaf collection crews.

Why self insurance, you ask? Many insurance companies now shy away from covering cities of a certain size, and Richmond leaders tell us they are saving money this way.

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