Drivers unlikely to be reimbursed over bridge damage

TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – The state is throwing down a roadblock for drivers looking to be reimbursed after their cars were damaged in January by a piece of cement sticking up on an I-290 bridge.

The State Department of Transportation originally encouraged those vehicle owners to file claims. Many hoped they could get some of their repair bills covered. But now the state is saying most, if not all, of those claims will be denied.

NYS DOT Regional Director Darrell Kaminski said, “We’ve denied some of those claims that have come in, and I imagine that most if not all of them will probably be denied.”

This past January, a chunk of cement broke loose from a bridge joint on the I-290 Westbound bridge over Delaware Avenue. At least 16 vehicles were damaged, some to the point of not being drivable.

At the time, the State DOT encouraged drivers to file claims for reimbursement. But after looking into it further, the DOT says it won’t pay for repairs.

Kaminski cited state law, saying, “The state shall not be liable for damages suffered by any person from defects in state highways, except between the first day of May and the fifteenth day of November.”

He explained the law is written that way because it’s difficult for crews to keep up with widespread road defects caused by winter weather.

“It’s hard to go out there and fix things. We’re in snow-ice operations, for the most part, and we’re not geared up as we would be from May through November for the summer months,” Kaminski said.

Why, then, did the DOT even tell drivers to file claims? The one exception to the law is in cases where damage is caused by “the negligent conduct of state personnel.”

Kaminski said the DOT needed time to see if that happened with I-290, and in the meantime, wanted to give drivers that opportunity.

“We wanted to do a little bit more investigation on our own, to find out, did we have any prior knowledge of this? Did we not get out there soon enough? We learned about it earlier that morning, and we were out there within about an hour-and-a-half, making repairs to that,” he said.

Kaminski said that bridge as well as the I-290 bridge over Military Road are both going to be replaced. The bids for those projects will be put out next week and the replacement will be done over the next two summers.

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