Lincoln pays out $350,000-plus to settle accident claims involving city vehicles

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) Nearly 100 accident claims were settled involving city-owned vehicles between January 2017 and June 2019, according to records obtained by 10/11 NOW from the city of Lincoln.

During that time period, documents revealed $360,333.25 from a risk department fund, paid out to settle 97 accident claims involving a variety of city vehicles.

StarTran, Lincoln’s public transportation service, totaled 30 claims costing $92,323.08, 10/11 NOW discovered.

Another $268,000 was given in payouts to settle 67 claims involving city-owned vehicles, not including StarTran buses, between January 2017 and June 2019.

In a claim settled this past April, $21,000 was paid out to a man hit by a bus while riding his bike near 8th and M Streets in June 2018.

Another case involved a woman hit by a bus while riding her bike at 14th and M in April 2017. She was later awarded $11,000.

Two other settlements together tallied more than $70,000 and both involved accidents where drivers disregarded stop signs while behind the wheel of a city vehicle.

Of 97 claims, records showed 19 ended in payouts of at least $4,000. A majority of others were settled for at least $1,500.

Where does the money come from?

The city of Lincoln is self-insured up to $250,000. Claims up to that amount are paid out from an auto fund in the risk management division of the Lincoln Human Resources Department. The fund consists of an amount of money collected from various city departments.

The fund totaled nearly $1.6 million as of June 30, with another $263,000 slated to be added in the fiscal year starting Sept. 1, according to Shannon Anderson, a risk manager for Lincoln.

Departments will pay a pro rated amount recommended by an actuary based on past claim activity.

Employee training

Lincoln has nearly 2,000 city-owned licensed and unlicensed vehicles, including buses, cars, trucks, snowplows and LES vehicles, according to the city.

Each year, the city’s risk department reviews the driving records of about 1,500 city employees, which averages out to one payout crash for every 15 employees, according to data compiled by 10/11 NOW. The number nearly doubles Omaha, which settled one accident claim for every 28 employees eligible to drive a city vehicle.

Of the accidents in Lincoln, two employees were each involved in more than one accident resulting in a payout.

Bob Nemecek, safety and training coordinator for Lincoln, said employees receive fleet vehicle education through the department in which they're hired. Those individual departments are tasked with monitoring drivers and handing out disciplinary action.

"The departments have a review board that they go through, and that's each department that has that," Nemecek said. "From our standpoint in risk management and part of human resources, we get all of the vehicle accidents and review then with law."

"When you have accidents that happen, you make sure all the pieces are there," Nemecek said. "It's them that gets hurt. They don't want to get hurt. I think for the most part, we've got a pretty good safe driving crew."

An investigation by 10/11 NOW last September looked into the driving records of several StarTran bus drivers.

How are claims investigated?

Lincoln city attorney, Jeff Kirkpatrick, said once a claim is submitted, it goes through an investigation process where his office will review details of the accident.

"We're going to look at the accident report or whatever the claim is and we're going to check with whatever city department is involved," Kirkpatrick said.

With the city being self-insured, all claims, investigations and settlements under $250,000 are handled by the city itself.

"We're like any other quasi insurance company," Kirkpatrick said. "We'll do an investigation. We ask you to fill out a form and provide any sort of supporting documentation that you can."

When the process is complete, the law department will recommend the Lincoln City Council either accept or deny the claim. From there, councilors will make the final decision.

Once a claim has been denied, a claimant has the option to file suit against the city.

"Usually it comes down to, 'Do we think the city was at fault or not," Kirkpatrick explained. "A lot of the attention is paid on the ones that we deny and people say 'No you were at fault,' but frankly there are a number of claims that we say, 'Yeah, we made a mistake so we just pay it out.'"

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