Supervisors learn about ‘a day in the life of a claim’
|Tim Purdy’s Triumph TR4, one of only 6,000 ever produced, is as good as new after being repaired. According to Lassen County District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman, Purdy has driven the car around Lassen County for about 30 years, and it’s the only car he’s ever owned.|
|Lassen County historian Tim Purdy said he spent nearly $13,000 to fix his vintage Triumph TR4 after a county employee driving a county vehicle damaged it at the Lassen County Fairgrounds. The county finally settled the claim for about $6,000.|
March 12, 2013 — Lassen County’s Board of Supervisors learned the ins and outs of the county’s claim process at its Tuesday, Feb. 26 meeting.
District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman and the board asked for a report from David Nelson, the executive director of Trindel, the county’s insurance agency, to explain the way the county’s workers compensation and tort claims are handled.
From the dais, Chapman has expressed his dissatisfaction with the way the damage claim filed by Tim Purdy was handled after his car was hit by a county vehicle driven by a county employee on county property (the fairgrounds).
According to Chapman, Purdy’s settlement with the county only covered the cost of half the damages to his vehicle. Chapman said the county should have paid the total cost of the repairs.
Nelson explained the claims process and began by sharing the history of Trindel, a group that began representing two counties in 1980 but now represents 10 rural counties, mostly in northern California.
Through joint power agreements, the counties contribute money to a fund and assign the responsibility of administering claims against them to Trindel.
A second tier of funding comes from the combined contributions of a pool of 53 counties, money also administered through additional joint power agreements.
A third tier of funding includes insurance for catastrophic losses.
“We provide the most cost-effective risk management mechanism for Lassen County property liability and other casualty programs,” Nelson said.
A person files a claim with the clerk of the board to initiate the process, Nelson said. He estimated there are currently about 10 claims making their way through the system. He said the board of supervisors approved a process in which the county’s risk manager has been delegated the authority to settle claims that do not exceed $5,000.
Nelson, the county’s risk manager, county counsel and the county administrative officer comprise a panel that has been delegated the authority to settle claims between $5,000 and $20,000.
The board of supervisors makes the decision regarding all claims exceeding $20,000.
Rejected and unresolved claims may result in a lawsuit.
Chapman said in years past all claims came before the board for approval or rejection, and District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson agreed.
According to Chapman, the notion of the board delegating that responsibility to the risk manager and others sounded like an attempt “to protect the board from itself.”
“A lot of times we hear about a claim being settled or a claim being rejected by reading the newspaper,” Chapman said, “and it’s like they get it through some third-party source. It doesn’t take place here in this environment … I would prefer to hear about it from staff (rather) than reading about it in the newspaper.”
Nelson said despite the delegation of this authority, the board remains “the stewards of the public’s money” and the supervisors are their constituent’s representatives.
Chapman also asked about the way Purdy’s claim was handled.
Apparently Trindel found a similar vehicle that could be purchased for half the amount of the estimates to repair Purdy’s vintage vehicle — a vehicle Chapman said Purdy had spent years restoring.
He said Purdy wanted his vehicle fixed, and just because the county was a public agency, it shouldn’t have “the right to jip or short-change people … It should be about fairness.”
Nelson said the solution to that problem lies with the county and not with Trindel.
He said the county could have settled the matter with Purdy as it wished.
But District 3 Supervisor Larry Wosick said during closed session discussions about the claim, the board was told if it paid Purdy more than the value of the vehicle as determined through the claims process, it could be considered a gift of public funds.
Wosick asked county counsel to look into the matter and report back to the board at a future meeting.
Nelson said Trindel offered the settlement it did because $5,000 would have bought a comparable vehicle even though Purdy said it cost $13,000 to repair the damage.
Lassen County Tax Collector Richard Egan joined the conversation.
He told the board a basic concept of insurance is that a damaged party in a case such as this is entitled to the value of the loss — not the cost to repair the damage.
He said there are about 10 damage claims in the system right now.
Workers compensation claims
According to Nelson, returning an employee to health is the first priority of workers compensation claims.
When a county employee files a workers compensation claim, the adjusters evaluate the claim, verify the facts, determine liability and then authorize treatment.
Some of the more difficult claims — where an employee has suffered a permanent injury — are settled with a lump sum payment while others are settled with stipulations such as a payment for damages and an agreement to pay future medical expenses.
Nelson said there are currently about 50 workers compensation claims in the system.
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