Car accidents caused by employees of the City of Atlanta, Georgia are costing taxpayers billions of dollars in legal settlements, according to recent local news reports. Since 2008, the city has paid out more than $3.27 million over 700 claims.
If a city employee causes a car accident, the city may be responsible for the property damage and bodily injury settlements paid out to citizens. In Atlanta, the departments that top the list of having the most employees involved in accidents are the Police, Watershed Management, and Public Works.
For instance, the City of Atlanta paid $405,000 recently to a woman who was injured in a collision with a police cruiser in 2009. She sustained spinal, facial and rib injuries. In a case that settled last year, a man received an $85,000 settlement because the city failed to maintain a fire hydrant and water leaked into the road and formed a dangerous patch of ice that caused him to crash. The city has paid out settlements large and small, with an average payout of $4,500.
The surrounding areas have all paid out a lot of money on accidents, as well. Since 2008, Gwinnett County had paid out $2.21 million for 527 claims. Cobb County has settled 497 claims for $1.59 million, and DeKalb County has seen 1,300 crashes involving city workers for $5.7 million.
Cities are combating this problem mainly through driver education. Cobb County requires all public safety personnel to attend annual training, while all employees must take defensive driving every 3 years.
In Atlanta, the department of Watershed Management requires defensive driving classes for all employees who are required to drive city vehicles. An accident review board also reviews the facts of all collisions to see if employees require additional training.
Due to that department’s efforts to educate employee drivers, there has been a decrease in accidents. The number of accidents involving city employees from the Watershed Management Department decreased from 130 per year in 2008 and 2009 to 80 per year in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, there have been 68 accidents so far involving Watershed Management Department vehicles.
The police department has seen its fair share of collisions. Recently the department has increased the curriculum in emergency vehicle training by 16 hours. Last year additional classroom training as well as practical driving training was given to 15 police officers who had been involved in multiple collisions. More training is now provided to officers for dangerous pursuits like high-speed chases.
GPS monitors have also been installed in all police cruisers, and will monitor speeds and alert a supervisor if officers drive too fast. Just two months ago, the Atlanta City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting city employees from using cell phones while driving city vehicles. Using a cell phone to text or talk can cost a city employee his or her job.
It’s commendable to see the city taking steps to reduce the number of car accidents by city employees. While the claims paid out by the city every day are a drain on taxpayer resources, these accidents caused by employees have caused great harm to the citizens of the community. It’s good that the city is increasing rates of education among its drivers. City employees have a responsibility to look out for other drivers and pedestrians on the road, and to drive as safely as possible.