Ron Oyer’s Christmas-time ride was jolted by an expansion joint.
“It woke us both up. It scared the daylights out of both of us,” Oyer said.
He had hit a bolt that brought a piece of the joint through his tire and wheel. Oyer filed a $2,000 claim to the state for repairs and it was denied.
He still can’t believe it. “Things happen, so you own up to it. If it’s replacing somebody’s window playing baseball, or breaking something of somebody’s, you just take care of it. That’s the way it is.”
But Streator Johnson from the Washington State department of Transportation says the state won’t pay a claim unless it has prior notice of the issue before the incident.
“Let’s say it had popped up three days ago and nobody had done anything about it, and somebody hit that joint,” Johnson said. “That would be prior notice and we would probably pay on that claim, absent other circumstances.”
But the state has known for years about problems with its expansion joints. More than 60 expansion joints on I-5 from Everett to Tacoma have been rated as poor. But to the state, that information is not considered notice.
“We know that there’s been problems with the expansion joints. So they know that it happened. I had the evidence, they can come and inspect it, and all they did was say I didn’t give them forewarning that the expansion joint was going to fail, so I was not covered,” Oyer retorts.
From January 2013 to February 2016, there have been 13 claims for cars damaged by expansion joints on I-5. Six of those claims have been denied. Six were settled and one remains open. Anne Forster’s case is one of those denials.
“I come around the corner on the freeway doing 60 mph, and all the sudden there’s a metal piece sticking up out of the freeway and I had nowhere to turn, nowhere to go, and I hit it right on with the front end of my car,” Forster said.
Forster says she hit the expansion joint on I-5 in May of last year. She called authorities but kept driving to work. The next day on her way to a mechanic her car caught on fire. Anne filed a claim and the state sent an investigator to look at her car, but she says the inspection was less than complete.
“He never looked underneath my car. Never looked underneath it. Never,” Forster explained. “And it would seem to me that that would be what he would be worrying about.”
The state first denied her claim, then offered her $250 for a front end alignment.
“I’m really angry. I’m very, very angry. Very angry. Because they don’t have that right to do that. If I wreck something of theirs I have to replace it and take care of it. And they have no right to do that to me. Or anybody. They need to be responsible.”
I asked for a copy of the investigator’s report. Bruce Lemon with the Department of Enterprise Services, the agency that investigates these cases, says all investigatory reports are protected by law from the Public Disclosure Act.
So Anne will have trouble making her case, and Ron’s got no shot at all. For now drivers on I-5 will have to take their chances, hoping they don’t hit an expansion joint, and then praying the state will pay their claim.
And that doesn’t sit well with Oyer.
“The state doesn’t seem to want to play by the same rules, or just own up to me, something that seems so basically right. Again, I didn’t ask for any fear, or scaring me or my wife to death, I just asked for what was damaged, period. It just seems so basic.”