Marlowe
Berg was driving to a doctor’s appointment on Eastgate Mall near its
intersection with Genesee in La Jolla when she said that she saw what appeared
to be a giant red wall flash before her eyes.

A
fire truck, driven by a San Diego Firefighter, allegedly drove through a red
light, directly in front of Berg, sending her car spinning into a 180-degree
turn and completely crushing the entire front end of Berg’s black Lexus sedan.

“There
was no sound, and then all of a sudden I saw a blaze of red in front of me,”
Berg told NBC 7 Investigates. “I tried to stop but then all I remember is the
sound of the collision. The next thing I remember is that all of the airbags
deployed in the car had spun around apparently and there was smoke coming from
the engine.”

The sedan’s engine had crushed Berg’s foot.  She suffered a concussion from the impact from the airbags. Berg’s sternum was broken, as was her wrist, and a vertebra in her back.

She
spent the next year in and out of surgeries and was forced to live in an
assisted living facility and undergo extensive rehabilitation. 

Now,
nearly two years after the October 2018 crash, she will have more waiting, this
time in a San Diego courtroom to try and recuperate the cost of medical
expenses and other costs from the city. In April 2019, the city of San Diego
denied the claim Berg submitted to try and recoup those expenses, forcing her
to hire an attorney and take the city to court. 

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Berg
is not alone. She, like hundreds of others each year, is involved in a vehicle
accident with a city worker. And, like so many others, Berg hit major
road-blocks when trying to receive insurance claims to cover property damage
and medical expenses from the city when those accidents do occur.

According to data analyzed by NBC 7 Investigates, from May 2015 through July 2020, the city of San Diego paid more than $18.8 million to settle claims filed by those who were hit by city vehicles or employees. Of that, $8.1 million were for accidents involving police, fire, or lifeguard vehicles. The remaining $10.7 million was for accidents involving other types of city vehicles, including trash trucks, and parking enforcement vehicles.

Of the 634 vehicle accident claims submitted to the city of San Diego from May 1, 2015, through July 2020, the longest time it took to process a claim was nearly 4 and a half; the amount was only $22,000. 

Payments
include a $5.85 million to pay the family of a 62-year-old motorcyclist who was
killed in Clairemont when an officer’s patrol vehicle collided with him while
making a U-Turn. 

Brett
Schreiber represents Marlowe Berg in her case against the city. 

Schreiber
has represented dozens of those who have been involved in accidents with city
employees. He says the city acts as their own insurance adjuster and in doing
so, drivers and pedestrians who are involved in accidents with city employees
are forced to wait months, even years to get claims processed and to get
reimbursed for property damage and medical expenses.

“Unfortunately,
for the people who have their vehicles hit by city employees, unlike typical
private insurance, it can take months or even years for the claims to
ultimately resolve,” attorney Schreiber told NBC 7 Investigates. 

Schreiber
says the problem is often due to private auto insurance companies expecting the
responsible driver’s insurance, the city of San Diego, to pay claims directly
instead of the company paying it and waiting to get reimbursed from the
city. 

“It starts with the fact that the driver’s insurance company is not obligated, even though they may be fully insured and even though they may have underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage, because the city does have insurance,” said Schreiber. “It’s just an incredibly and exceedingly slow pay.”

“For anyone to ever actually hold the city responsible for anything, it often requires full-blown litigation. And this can even be in the context of a property damage claim. That had this individual been hit by a private person with private insurance could have been resolved in a matter of weeks,” said Schreiber.

Added
Schreiber, “Unfortunately at the city level, it’s just business as usual. And
so it’s not uncommon for them to just delay and deny claims without really
appreciating the impact that this has on people’s lives.”

That can be seen in the case of Ladrita Hunter. Hunter’s 17-year-old son took her car and during his drive, he was struck by a police officer on Logan Avenue in Logan Heights. The impact totaled Hunter’s car and left her and her family without a car for months as she tried to navigate the often confusing city bureaucracy, 

Hunter
said her insurance company told her that because her son was not at fault that
she would have to get the city to pay her for her totaled vehicle.

“As
soon as I said the collision involved a San Diego Police officer, my insurance
company told me that I needed to get in touch with their insurer,” Hunter told
NBC 7. “I was like, ok, I don’t know exactly how to do that”

Hunter
says she reached out to the police department but never received a
response. 

“No
one ever reached out to offer help. Instead, I was left without a car.”

After more than two months, Hunter received a check for $20,000 to pay for her vehicle. 

A
spokesperson for the city of San Diego told NBC 7 that the city’s Risk
Management Department acts as the city’s de-facto insurance company. Risk
Adjusters in the department are tasked with investigating the vehicle accident
claims submitted to the city. 

“Risk
Management is successful in resolving a majority of claims where liability on
behalf of the City is established and where the City is provided evidence to
substantiate the damages sustained by the claimant,” read the statement from
the city.

“The
City Attorney’s Office and Risk Management have a duty to ensure that any
settlement or judgment is based on a review of the facts and the evidence.
Because plaintiffs and their attorneys frequently seek far more money than is
justified by evidence, we must perform our due diligence to protect taxpayers.”

But
for those such as Marlow Berg and Ladrita Hunter, the process only adds more
stress to the typically stressful experience of getting into a vehicle
accident.

“I
have disfigurement. The foot will never be the same. I have loss of mobility
and I also then have a loss of some joy of life,” says 81-year-old Berg. “I am
an avid traveler, or I was. I loved to go to different parts of the world but
that’s not going to happen again. It has dramatically affected my life and I am
sure that is the same with a lot of other people.” 





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