Madison County changes procedure for damage claims from motorists

By NIKKI ROWELL,

Madison County residents will no longer present their vehicle damage claims to the board of supervisors.

The board voted last week to abolish its current vehicle damage claims policy and will refer all claims for an insurance company to decide how to move forward.

The new policy will take effect mid-June.

The update to the policy comes on the heels of several county residents approaching the board to have claims paid after damage was done to their vehicles on a county road.

The county’s previous policy for handling claims states that the county is not liable unless the defect in the road was the direct cause of damage and “was not apparent or discovered by the exercise of reasonable diligence.”

The policy also states that the county is not liable if they made a repair to the road up to seven days after it was reported.

Board attorney Katie Snell reached out to other county officials in the state to take a look at their claims policies to get a better idea of how to update Madison County’s policy.

“Most other counties have a little bit stricter approach to it than we do,” Snell said. “They defer to insurance and what insurance agrees to approve or deny. That is one option.”

“If you think of it this way, while I know a lot of people that come before this board are very genuine that their car did actually incur those damages,” Snell added. “This board is like a judicial body, you review the evidence, if they just come to us and say that they happened to hit the pothole, it’s hard for us to tell if they did or did not hit that pothole or whether we had sufficient time or notice to fix it.”

She said that referring county residents to insurance can be a positive for the county because the insurance company will investigate and determine whether or not to pay the claim.

“That takes it off the board,” Snell said. “When you have a written policy, you have to stick to it and be consistent. That’s hard to do when people are coming before you with their damage claims.”

The board agreed that the new policy would help them to be consistent in how they handle vehicle damage claims, as they will always be referred to insurance.

District One Supervisor Sheila Jones made a motion to abolish the county’s current policy and to refer everyone to insurance to handle claims beginning 30 days after the supervisors met on May 20.

The new policy was approved unanimously.

The board began discussing making a change to its claims policy earlier this year, following residents approaching the board asking to be reimbursed for damage done to vehicles on potholes in the county.

In February, Madison resident Shannon Lott asked to be reimbursed for vehicle repairs after his son hit two large potholes on Bozeman Road.  After two tires were damaged and the vehicle had to be towed to Gluckstadt for repairs, Lott racked up $795.68 in fees to address the damage.

Ward Four Supervisor David Bishop made a motion to pay the claim, and Lott was later reimbursed for the damage.

Another resident approached the board at a meeting last month asking the county for reimbursement for damage done to their vehicle while traveling on a county road.

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