The Connecticut Department of Administrative Services (DAS) says it needs $2.5 million to pay out liability claims for vehicle accidents by state employees driving state fleet vehicles, as the court system has recovered from its pandemic-related slowdown and is processing more claims.
“We are running at about a $2.5 million deficit,” said Melissa Frank, director of the insurance and risk management board, during a Finance Advisory Committee meeting on April 6. “These are really driven by fleet liability claims, auto accidents.”
“What we’ve seen is cases moving more quickly through the courts now that we’re through the pandemic, the rate at which we are seeing judgments come down, settlements, has increased,” Frank said.
Frank said that during Fiscal Year 2022, they settled eight claims in excess of $50,000 but this year they’re on track to settle 23 during the same time period, accounting for the $2.5 million difference. “That’s the gap,” Frank said.
While the pure numbers show a nearly 300 percent increase, as was pointed out by Rep. Tammy Nuccio, R-Tolland, Frank said it wasn’t due to more accidents but rather the claims reaching DAS for payment.
The change will increase the appropriation for the State Insurance and Risk Management Operations from $14.9 million to $17.4 million. The $2.5 million increase is being transferred from lapsed funds appropriated for DAS personnel services after the agency experienced a delay in hiring and filling all vacant positions. The money will also be used to cover higher insurance cost premiums, according to an analysis by the Office of Fiscal Analysis.
“The bottleneck has opened, and that’s what we’re dealing with now,” Frank said. “Unfortunately, accidents happen and we’re seeing the fallout now of settling those in quicker numbers and at a quicker pace than in the past, not necessarily more accidents.”
Frank indicated that it is difficult to know the backlog of potential claims because many claimants wait till near the end of the 2-year statute of limitations before filing a claim.
Connecticut’s state fleet consists of 3,600 vehicles for 90 state agencies and departments, logging 30 million miles per year, according to DAS.
Unlike other monetary claims filed against the state that must be approved by the backlogged Office of the Claims Commissioner before proceeding to the court system, vehicle accident claims against the state can proceed directly to court.
According to the most recent audit of DAS by the state Auditors of Public Accounts, there were 815 state vehicle incidents between January 2019 and February 2021, including 162 auto liability accidents in which the state was at fault, 250 incidents where the state vehicle was struck by another vehicle, and 403 physical damage claims.