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12 for car damage filed so far this year: Damages include fallen branches, potholes

LIHUE — Cars getting stuck in potholes, being struck by fallen branches, or hit by county cars are just a few examples of claims for car damage filed in 2016 to the County of Kauai.

There have been 12 claims filed against the county this year, as of Friday, citing various car damage, according to the County Attorney’s Office.

“We report quarterly, and our last claims report was end of September,” said Mauna Kea Trask, county attorney. “There may be some more vehicle claims filed since then, and claims (could have been) settled or denied since then as well.”

In 2015, approximately 22 claims were filed against the county.

People have two years from an incident to file a claim, he said.

“The actual instances themselves did not necessarily happen on those dates or even in that year,” Trask said.

Not every settlement amount was readily available — for 2016 and 2015 — by press time. According to the numbers provided, the county paid about $20,000 in settlements last year. But not every claim reported in 2015 provided a settlement amount.

Of the 12 that were filed this year, two were denied. The rest have been settled or are pending.

The first claim of 2016 to the county was filed by Margaret Benton in January. According to the Notice of Claim Against the County of Kauai, Benton was in a parking lot in Hanalei when her car, a Honda Odyssey, “bottomed out in a pothole.”

According to the claim, the plastic covering underneath the car’s engine was ripped away. But no one was injured.

The amount claimed was $167.94, according to the report.

The claim amount reported in a file doesn’t necessarily mean that is the amount settled, Trask said, but is what the claimant is reporting the damage is worth.

The county requires two estimates for damage repair, and will generally take the lower of the two estimates, Trask said. If the claim only has one estimate, the county attorney follows up with the claimant to get another estimate.

In June, State Farm Insurance filed a claim against the county on behalf of Craig Haruki, whose car was involved in a fender bender with a Kauai Police Department car.

“An officer was following my wife on Kaumaualii Highway, near Burger King. There was a homeless woman walking on the sidewalk, and the officer was looking at her. She didn’t realize traffic had stopped,” Haruki said.

The car, a Subaru Forester, suffered little damage, but the police car was smashed, he said.

After getting the car fixed, State Farm suggested collecting money from the county, Haruki said.

The claim amount was $911.31.

“It was a relatively fast process and wasn’t that difficult,” Haruki said.

Shellie Redd filed a claim against the county in June regarding a May incident in the drop-off lane at Wilcox Elementary School.

According to the claim, Redd was dropping her children off at school on the morning of May 18 when a county truck stopped in the drop-off lane, reversed and backed into the front of her car, a Chevrolet Sonic.

“I sounded my horn, but was unable to move out of the way, due to children crossing and other vehicles driving through,” Redd wrote in the claim report.

Her car sustained damage to the front bumper and left side of the car. The amount claimed was $937.69.

Another claim filed to the county this year was entered by Andy Kakutani in March. According to the claim, Kakutani was driving through the Tree Tunnel, or Maluhia Road, on Feb. 4 when part of a tree fell on his car, a Ford Fusion.

The branch fell on the right front fender, he said.

“When I heard the bang, I didn’t turn into the left lane. I just gripped the steering wheel. There’s no shoulder, so I couldn’t stop on the side of the road,” Kakutani wrote in the claim, which was filed in March. “If I would have braked hard, multiple cars behind me would have rear-ended together. When I looked in the rearview mirror, every car behind me had to take an evasive swerve to avoid collision with the branch. This means it must have been of significant size.”

No glass was broken, and no one in his car was injured, according to the claim.

According to the report, the amount of the claim was between $1,375.67 and $1,931.22.

When claims for vehicle damage are filed against the county, each report is given to a county attorney who then reviews the facts of the case, Trask said.

“A recommendation is then made whether to settle or deny the claim to the claims committee who votes whether or not to accept the recommendation,” Trask said. “We recommend settling all cases as appropriate under the law. We do not take an inappropriate offensive stance just to fight cases.”

If the settlement amount is over $5,000, the claim goes to the Kauai County Council for approval. Anything $5,000 and below, the county attorney’s office can settle without going to the council, Trask said.

This year, two claims — one filed by Charles Cecil and one filed by Jody and Erica Valente — were denied.

Cecil filed a claim in July after a branch fell on his windshield while he was driving down Olohena Road in his Nissan Frontier.

“I was going the speed limit or less, as it is a sloping, turning road,” he wrote in his claim. “I pulled over. Glass everywhere inside.”

The amount of the claim was $2,477.61.

The Valente family was denied a settlement after they filed a claim in June.

According to the report, their Mercedes convertible went through a pothole on Papalina Road. Damage included a bent rim and popped tire. The amount of the claim was $1,263.53.

When a claim is denied, a claimant can sue the county, at which point the county attorney involved in the case will defend their stance, Trask said.

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