January 9, 2009 in City

Damage claims from snowplows start to come in

City, county compensate property owners after determining liability
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The 1984 Coachman RV sat proudly in front of the Five Mile residence, surrounded by snow and unmarred.

When Paul Brainard awoke one day in late December that had changed, and he knew the cause: a plow.

“When I went to bed the street wasn’t plowed, and when I woke up it was,” Brainard said.

Before the 39-year-old could file a claim, however, an employee from Spokane County’s risk management office visited his home to take pictures of the damage, which included a broken mirror, window, awning and a crease in the vehicle’s side panel. The plow driver had reported the collision to his bosses.

The county and city of Spokane have received dozens of complaints about damages caused by snowplows since the storms began on Dec. 17. Many are still being investigated. Some will result in compensation to residents. Other claims will be dismissed, either because damages weren’t caused by city or county snowplows, or because it’s a matter of “questionable liability,” said Steve Bartel, Spokane County Risk Management manager. “If we get 6 feet of snow, and there’s no way to have known that a car was there, and we happen to hit it, the county would probably not be liable,” he said.

Some cases are clear-cut, however. Said city spokeswoman Marlene Feist: “There are some things that just get hit (by the plows). We are going to pay for that.”

Spokane County has received 14 reports of snowplows causing damage to property, including flower pots, light poles, cars and RVs, according to Spokane County Risk Management. The county has received one claim for damages, to a mailbox.

The city of Spokane has received about 10 claims per day during the same time period, although some of those reports aren’t city-related, Feist said. In those cases, the person is unsure who to call or the snowplow may have been a private contractor.

“Some citizens are assuming that all plows are city plows,” Feist said. “They need to get information from the plow driver just like they would in any accident situation.”

This week, city snowplow drivers have reported several collisions involving parked cars covered with snow. A plow hit a vehicle on Monday, for example, that hadn’t been moved since the first snow, said Spokane police Officer Devin Presta. “These vehicles are very hard to see when the plow drivers are maneuvering the large plows through the narrow streets,” Presta said.

Bartel said that if a parked car is clearly visible and a snowplow hits it, “we are probably going to be responsible.” But city and county officials said if the plow driver cannot see the car, it’s the owner’s responsibility.


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