A pothole patching crew for the city’s Department of Public Works was a welcome sight in a Kaisertown neighborhood, until their truck slammed into a Chuck Eckel’s Chevy pickup that was legally parked in front of his house, last March.
The DPW driver got out of the truck and assured Eckel the city would pay for the damage, but when his claim was rejected, Eckel and his wife Mary Susan contacted Call 4 Action.
Due to an exception in New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law–as in all 49 other states–public employees and public officials are generally exempt from liability when they damage private property in the course of performing their duties, even, as in this case, when the truck driver admitted he was at fault.
Chuck watched in horror as the DPW crew’s truck backed into his Chevy Colorado pickup, and gashed the hood and front bumper.
“All of a suddent the pothole truck went barreling backwards and did not stop, and smashed into the front of my truck.”
Mary Susan, who goes by “Sue” watched from the kitchen window, and then went outside to survey the damage, “The driver, he was all like ‘Oh my God, I did it, I am so sorry,’ and I said what are you guys going to do about this? He said, ‘I am taking full responsibility ma’am, I did it.'”
The Eckels filed a police report, and followed the instructions they got from city officials for filing a claim with the city, rather than with their insurance carrier.
After getting three estimates from collision, and filling out the appropriate forms, the Eckels filed their claim, and later got a rejection letter from Buffalo’s Legal Department. In denying the claim, Corporation Counsel said the Eckels would need to prove the driver was reckless in causing the accident.
But the Eckels’ car insurance policy has a $1,000 deductible for damage to their vehicles, and Sue just returned to work after surviving stage 3 cancer. Sue added, financially, they are just getting back on their feet.
“We did not get behind, but we are trying to play a little bit of catch up. So we don’t really have an extra $1,000 laying around for something like this.”
The Eckels contacted their representative on the Common Council, Lovejoy Councilman Richard Fontana who has investigated their case, and is submitting their claim to the Council’s Claims Committee.
“I do not think it is good policy for us to tell the people to use their insurance, have that insurance then go up,” said Fontana, “and cost that person more money each year to be done. If we break it, we should take it.”
Fontana added, if the Claims Committee agrees with him, they will overrule the Corporation Counsel’s rejection, and cover most, if not all, of the cost of repairs to Eckel’s pickup.