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Thumbs up: Highway agency improves processing of public claims

Dec. 04, 2012 @ 10:50 PM

Two years ago, the West Virginia Division of Highways came under fire for the way it handled the public's claims of vehicle damage caused by conditions of state roads. Legislative auditors even suggested that the division routinely denied claims knowing that typically half of all claimants would not attend the resulting hearing, meaning the state wouldn't have to pay.

The agency denied that, but there was no denying that the way it handled claims wasn't working. The claims, mostly having to do with alleged damage caused by potholes or other road defects, average about $475 each, according to the 2010 auditors report. But the state was spending more than $1,300 to process each case. Claims also were so backlogged that there was a year's delay in hearing cases, and motorists who received awards waited an average of two-and-a-half years to receive payouts.

Since then, however, the highway agency has adopted a new approach, according to the auditors' follow-up report. Officials began looking at claims as a whole and mapping out where they occurred. Those occurring in areas with known road damage and around the same time period were grouped together. After a general investigation, division attorneys began drafting what are known as omnibus orders to process the claims as a whole, according to a report in the Charleston Daily Mail.

That has led to a sharp drop in the claims backlog. And while the division still denies an average of 75 percent of claims, that's a marked change from rejecting nearly 100 percent of claims initially, the auditors noted.

Many motorists may still be unhappy with the outcomes of their claims, but at least the Division of Highways has made a solid effort to streamline the process so that motorists won't have to wait so long to determine their claims' fate -- and receive compensation if warranted.

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