A Tennesssee-based trucking company is challenging the Indiana Department of Tranportation’s authority to sue for damages on state property caused by motorists on highways.
Averitt Experss Inc. is appealing a ruling by a judge in western Indiana’s Putnam County, claiming that it shouldn’t owe INDOT nearly $60,000 for a guardrail and pavement damage from a 2011 crash on Interstate 70 that killed a company driver.
The company insists that the transportation department’s long-standing policy of charging for highway repair work is illegal, because those repairs are already paid by tax money.
In the fiscal year ending June 30, INDOT’s property damage billing increased more than 50 percent to $7.1 million and covered more than 4,354 incidents, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.
Attorney Michael Langford said that other courts have observed the rule that governments cannot recover the cost of routine functions such as highway repair when those costs are already covered through taxation.
“This rule expresses the common-sense principle that taxpayers should not be asked to fund the same government functions twice,” he said.
According to the court’s findings, Averitt handed over $1.9 million in taxes from 2010 to 2013, and days before the accident INDOT contracted for repairs to the same section of 1-70 in Indianapolis.
Deputy Attorney General Kristin Garn said in a June 9 reply brief that the fact that Averitt pays taxes “has no bearing on the state’s ability to bring a tort claim in the case of damage to its property due to negligence.”
Although Legislature authorized the transportation department to recover highway-repair costs resulting from violations of size and weight restrictions, there was no such violation in the 2011 crash, according to the company.
Garn also sited the trial judge Matthey Headley who asked, “Does the defendant believe that there is going to be no recovery [for] a municipality when someone [knocks] out a stoplight? The example could go on, but the answer is obvious.”
INDOT’S collection from damages significantly increased when Purdue University researchers helped the department become more efficient in its billing to recover money for crash damages.
The increase in funds only intensifies the chance that someone would mount a serious legal challenge, said Lonnie Johnson, a Bloomington attorney who represents other trucking companies.
“A lot of times a practice will go on for years before anyone has the time or money to take it up on appeal,” he said.
On Aug. 17 2011, Goins was headed eastbound on I-70 when he attempted to avoid stalled vehicles ahead of him, striking the trailer of another truck and a guardrail, sending his truck into flames. Goins was killed.