— A trucking company wants the state appeals court to limit the Indiana
Department of Transportation's authority to sue over damage done to state
The challenge is
in court as the highway agency is trying to collect more from those blamed
for property damage, increasing its billing more than 50 percent in the
past year to about $7 million, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.
Averitt Express Inc. is appealing a ruling by a judge in western Indiana's
Putnam County that it owes almost $60,000 for guardrail and pavement
damage from a 2011 crash on Interstate 70 in which a driver for the
company was killed.
that the transportation department's police of charging for routine
highway repair work is illegal because those repairs are already paid for
by tax money.
observe the rule that governments cannot recover the cost of routine
functions through civil suits when those costs are already funded through
taxation, company attorney Michael Langford wrote in an appeals court
expresses the common-sense principle that taxpayers should not be asked to
fund the same government functions twice," he said.
Averitt paid $1.9 million in taxes in Indiana from 2010 to 2013, and also
that days before the accident, the highway department contracted for
repairs to that same section of I-70, according to the company's court
Legislature authorized the transportation department to recover
highway-repair costs arising from violations of size and weight
restrictions, there was no such violation in the 2011 crash, according to
attorney general's office argues the state can seek payment for damage
caused by negligence regardless of whether a company pays taxes.
General Kristin Garn said in a court filing the consequence of Averitt's
argument is "untenable" and cited the Putnam County judge who asked in his
ruling, "Does the defendant believe that there is going to be no recovery
(for) a municipality when someone (knocks) out a stoplight? The examples
could go on and on, but the answer is obvious."
The appeals court
hasn't yet scheduled oral arguments on the case.
Cities and states
commonly bill motorists for damage to their property. Purdue University
researchers studied other states' billing practices in 2010 as part of a
project aimed at helping the transportation department become more
efficient at recovering the cost of crash damages.
intensified collection efforts only increased the chance that someone
would mount a serious legal challenge, said Lonnie Johnson, a Bloomington
attorney who represents other trucking companies.
"A lot of times a
practice will go on for years before anyone has the time or money to take
it up on appeal," he said.