LEE COUNTY, Fla. - From potholes, to palm fronds, every now and then the county is asked to pay for damage to someone's property. Our CALL FOR ACTION investigation uncovered risk management personnel have tough decisions to make to make sure you're not getting ripped off!
As a mother of three children, including one who is disabled, Matoyia Calip-Gordon spends a lot of time behind the wheel.
"My daughter has therapy. At that time it was 3 times a week so I was constantly coming our on this road," Calip-Gordon told CALL FOR ACTION as she drove us around her Lehigh neighborhood. Those roads around her Lehigh home look like a mine field of potholes.
"This road was the worst potholes ever. I had to stop coming down this road," said Calip-Gordon.
The roads are also a patchwork of repairs. "This is where they fill in. They try their best to fill in where they can," said Calip Gordon, "You come back in a couple weeks or after it rains, it'll be all gone. It'll be the potholes all over again."
New potholes pop up with little warning. "I lost my shocks because of it. My front end shocks were damaged completely. I just had my wheel bearings replaced," said Calip-Gordon describing the damage done to her car.
The bill for constant repairs added up to almost 700 dollars. Unable to keep footing the bill while the county waited to finish repaving projects, Matoyia made a claim with the county to pay for part of the damage the potholes caused to her car.
The answer from the county was "no."
"It didn't even take them a day to consider," said Calip-Gordon, "They called back that afternoon."
The county wouldn't speak to us on camera about how they make determinations of which claims they pay and which they don't. They would only allow us to ask our questions by email.
In that email, they told us for potholes: "Our department looks into whether we had knowledge of the existence of a pothole and failed to fix it within a reasonable amount of time. If we failed to take corrective actions within a reasonable time frame we generally pay for the claim."
In a letter to Matoyia, the county told her it would not pay because it is aware of the potholes and have a road improvement project scheduled in the near future.
Our investigation found the county seldom pays for pothole damage.
CALL FOR ACTION requested copies of all of the claims made and paid by the county this year.
So far in 2010, Lee County has received 66 claims
Thirteen claims were made by drivers complaining the county's negligence filling potholes caused damage to their car.
But our investigation showed the county hasn't paid a single pothole damage claim this year.
The second most common claim was from people claiming a county road painting crew sprayed their cars.
Of eight claims, the county agree to pay two.
The county tells us they thoroughly investigate claims to make sure taxpayers don't get ripped off.
When we looked through the stack of claims, we saw examples of what they were talking about.
One man made a claim demanding the county to pay to repair his side-view mirror after he drove into a tollbooth.
Another wanted the county to pay for damage caused when a palm frond broke off and hit his windshield.
Yet another woman wanted the county to pay because she sat on a seat where coffee was spilled on a Lee Tran bus.
Matoyia says she's not trying to milk the system.
She says she just wants help with the continuing damage to both of her family cars from trying to dodge potholes while she waits for the roads to get paved.
"They should at least cover half the cost. If I had to pay 600 dollars half would have been a tremendous help for us as a family of five," said Calip-Gordon.
The county estimates it receives around 120 claims each year. They say their methods have limited the amount of claims billed to taxpayers. They've only claimed responsibility for 30 of the 66 claims made so far this year. The total paid out this year is 47,000 dollars.