County mulling at-fault driver cost reimbursement

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

Burnet Bulletin

Burnet County commissioners may consider seeking reimbursement from automobile liability insurance policies of at-fault drivers for expenses they would not have otherwise incurred.

County Judge James Oakley brought up the issue during the Oct. 10 regular commissioners court meeting. Oakley said the issue came to light after a recent double-fatality traffic accident on Texas 29 earlier this month.

The Oct. 2 accident resulted in the deaths of Dena Kolb, 52, of Burnet, and Pamela Stewart, 56, of Bertram. A third individual, Mark Salley, 56, of Leander, was transported to Seton Medical Center – Williamson County.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) preliminary investigation at the scene, the accident occurred about 4.7 miles east of Bertram, when a Ford Focus, driven by Stewart, was stopped on the inside westbound lane on Texas 29 waiting to turn onto Burnet County Road 304 and was struck by a Dodge Ram pickup, driven by Salley, whose pickup then caromed off Stewart's vehicle and hit Kolb's SUV.

Oakley said the county was required to pay between $2,800 to $2,900 each for autopsies for Stewart and Kolb as a result of the accident and those costs could be picked up by the insurance of the driver determined to be at fault for the accident – a determination which the Texas Department of Public Safety has not yet reported.

“If there is an instance in which a driver is at fault and there is some cost to the county, including property damage or autopsies, I would like to see us recoup that money for the county,” Oakley said. “People are required to have insurance that can pay for damages when they are in an accident and this should be no different.

“It doesn't center solely on this accident, but the cost of the autopsies plus transport was certainly one of the factors that has brought it to my attention.”
County Auditor Karen Hardin advised the commissioners they need to speak to their representative from the Texas Association of Counties, which is the county's insurance carrier.

“They would have to be the ones to recoup any money from the other insurance,” Hardin said. “We have to submit bills to TAC because everything we file a claim on goes through them. We don't file directly with other insurance companies, but instead send it to TAC to have them collect from the at-fault party.”

Sheriff Calvin Boyd said he didn't see why it could not be done, since “restitution is made by the at-fault party's insurance whenever there is an alcohol-related accident.” Boyd was not indicating that alcohol played any role in this accident, however.

Oakley said he will seek guidance from Hardin and County Attorney Eddie Arredondo and speak with the county's TAC representative to move forward on the issue.

In other action, the commissioners voted to approve going out for bids on a new camera system for the Burnet County Jail because the cost of the system will exceed $50,000 and there is not a sole source vendor or state buy board contract that can be used.

Boyd said parts are not available to fix the current camera system in the event of it going down, so an upgraded system is needed. The county will pay for the system using restricted funds from jail proceeds.

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