A Tale of Bureaucracy: King County Edition

Written by Scott

Topics: Family, Politics, Social Media

Now that JoAnn’s van is finally fixed, thought I would detail the goings-on regarding this whole fiasco.

It all started back in January. JoAnn, the littles, and Evanna were up at Seattle Children’s for appointments. After the appointments, they were in the process of leaving Seattle when a King County Metro bus hit her van while she was stopped with traffic a few cars back from a red light. It was minor, and only damaged the driver’s side mirror. Not a big deal. Bus driver was pleasant, apologetic, and called it in to get an incident number to pass on to her, as well as who to contact from there.

Turns out all of this type of thing is handled by the King County Risk Management department, which should have been the first red flag that there was unexpected and unnecessary bureaucracy ahead. Oh, and was there ever.

The first was at the initial call. Turns out that incident number had absolutely nothing to do with the claim side of things, and she was expected to provide all of the info again in a particular form. Then wait. Then fill out other forms. And then wait some more. That was not acceptable, in my mind.

So I took to Twitter. Because, well, it turns out that sometimes I’m good at leveraging it…despite typos. (Ignore them, please…)

Responses were quick and handled well, but of course, Metro could only do so much.

However, what they were able to do was very helpful.

Turns out we didn’t *actually* need to jump through all those hoops because of the low amount of damages. And on February 14, JoAnn got an email from a Tort Claims Investigator (translate that as: lawyer) that the claim had been approved in the amount that the body shop had estimated.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Except…King County’s release form, that they required to be signed. Below is a screenshot of the release as sent, minus the amount and the header of the release:

So…how many issues with this did you note?

Please also note that when I read things like this, especially after such arbitrary rules and delays, I tend to start looking like this:

Anyway…for me, there were two main issues, which I addressed in a reply to the “investigator”:

1. King County, as the operators of Metro buses, is, in fact, liable for this damage. This is not in dispute. Your bus driver’s report clearly indicates that the bus did indeed strike my wife’s van as she was at a red light and not moving. Yet the release states liability is denied (despite the offering of a settlement for said claim).
2. The estimate on which this figure is based is just that, an estimate. Which means an overage is possible, yet the release would like us to sign that King County will not pay beyond the amount listed, and that the claim would be finalized. That’s not acceptable. Private insurers do not exclude the possibility of overages, nor do they deny payment of said overages; there is no reason KingCounty should do otherwise.
Can the release be amended to address these concerns so we can move forward?

A couple hours later, I also forwarded to the initial manager contact we were given to keep her in the loop. She responded first, stating that the release and its wording are standard that they send out, but stated they would pay if other subsequent damages were found.

But THEN…the “investigator” replied, apparently not knowing the manager was already in the loop. I’m not sure she, as an attorney, liked being questioned. Her reply:

Good afternoon:

We are reviewing your concerns with our Prosecuting Attorney. When they complete their review, we will contact you.

Thank you for your consideration,

Wait…what?! A prosecuting attorney? For what, questioning the intent of the release form? Certainly seemed escalate quickly.

So forwarded that to the manager. Her reply:

I have discussed this with [attorney name withheld] and am cc’ing her on this reply to you.  There is no need for intervention with any attorneys.  This is a simple matter, we do require releases, however, should there be any damage that is found to be related to the accident that was not included in the initial estimate, we will take care of it.  Also, as mentioned before, the wording in the release is standard.  I am sorry for any confusion regarding this claim.  If you have any other concerns, please contact me.  I hope that this matter moves forward without any further confusion.

And so it did.

But certainly brings forth a lot of questions in regard to how King County, and especially the Risk Management office operates. Imagine having to jump through the hoops they wanted to had the car been totaled, or if there were significant injuries. As I’d stated in one of the tweets, had this been a private insurance, the claim would be started with a single phone call, as should be the process, rather than placing that burden on the victim. And then that release form…how often do they get away with having people sign that without questioning, and then deny any further claims because they signed it? Because it seems to me that in a department that deals with legal claims and issues, and that is staffed by a large number of attorneys, that the wording of the release is anything but accidental.

But then again, maybe I’m just cynical.