Innocent woman hits Stop Stick, no one will pay

What to do if you hit road debris

Imagine you are driving along and suddenly police cars are all around you, chasing a suspect. Your car ends up damaged, or worse.
    
So who is responsible? One Cincinnati woman got some news she couldn't believe and she has a warning for all of us if we ever hit anything in the road.

Wrong place, wrong time

It was dusk on Oct. 19, 2017, when a small black car led police on a high-speed chase, northbound on busy Interstate 75.
    
The chase was captured on an Ohio State Highway Patrol dash cam video, obtained by WCPO 9 On Your Side.

Deanna Garrett of Hartwell, Ohio, ended up in the middle of it.

"I saw the car they had attempted to pull over flying by me, with about eight Highway Patrol cars coming after him," Garrett said.

Garrett said she was in the high-speed, left lane and unable to merge when the chase approached her from behind.

She said an officer on the left berm suddenly tossed a Stop Stick into the left lane in an attempt to stop the getaway car.  

But the driver quickly switched lanes, she said, and  the dash cam video confirms the black car's quick move to the far right lane. Instead, Garrett, in her Ford Escape, ended up driving right into the nail-filled stick.

"Instinct was to try to swerve to miss it," she said. "But if I had swerved, I would have crashed into the guy they were chasing, or one of the patrol officers, and had an accident."

So she ran over the Stop Stick, and she still has the nails that went into her tire as proof.

"Instant flat tires," she said. She just had time to pull onto the left shoulder.

No one was injured, but Garrett's troubles had just begun. She said the officer at the scene was cordial and called a tow truck for her.  But that was it, she said.     

"I had to pay for the tow out of my own pocket that night. And then I had to pay for tires.  It was about $550 in total," she said.

Who pays for highway damage?

But when she called the Highway Patrol to ask about reimbursement, she learned she had to file a claim with the State of Ohio and pay $25 to do it. "I actually had to pay a filing fee to the state, to file my claim against the state," she says.

We contacted the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which sent us to the Ohio Court of Claims, which reviews claims against police and state agencies. 

Administrator Mark Reed told us a claim takes two months to process -- no exceptions. State law dictates the process, he explained, and even a case that appears cut and dried cannot be resolved in just a few days.

But Reed explained there's a chance her claim could be denied, if the state finds no negligence on the part of the Highway Patrol. If they forgot something on the road, he said, that would be negligent. But the deployment of a Stop Stick during a police emergency situation may not be considered negligent.

So we spoke with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who told us he sympathizes with people like Garrett.

"An innocent bystander, maybe they are hurt, maybe their car is damaged, and sure I think we should figure out some way to compensate that person," DeWine said. But he, too, was unable to expedite her claim.

How to protect yourself

In the meantime, if you hit any debris left by police, a highway crew, or even a pothole, the Court of Claims suggests you:

  • Take lots of pictures of the damage and the scene.
  • File a police report (it may be required to get reimbursement).
  • Contact the city, county, or state (whichever has jurisdiction) and ask how to apply for reimbursement.
  • With a pothole, it typically has to be a pothole that has been reported before. If you are the first to hit and report it, you are usually out of luck.

Garrett can only wait to find out if she gets reimbursed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have asked the state to expedite her claim.

"I don't think it's right!  I was at not at fault  in this whole situation," she said.

AAA says that highway debris -- from beds, to ladders, to traffic cones -- cause 25,000 accidents nationwide a year.

If your car is damaged and the government denies your claim, your only other option is to file a claim with your insurance under your "comprehensive coverage."

That way you don't waste your money.

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