D.C. Government has 6,000 vehicles traveling the streets of Washington. And some of the city employees behind the wheel are crashing their government owned vehicles over and over again, and still keeping their jobs.
Taxpayers are paying millions for all that bad driving.
Records obtained from the D.C. Office of Risk Management, the agency that watches for risky behavior by D.C. employees, shows The District has paid $4.3 million in accident settlements over the last five years.
All of that money is taxpayer dollars.
From 2013 to 2017, there were 1,064 settlements involving 930 different D.C. workers. The data obtained by WUSA9 does not specify whether the employee behind the wheel was at fault in the accident.
Two, three or even four accident settlements are not always enough to get those employees off the streets. Three out of four workers with multiple accident settlements are still on the job.
Records show DC Government used tax dollars to pay at least four settlements for accidents when Aida Rodriguez, a K-9 officer with the DC Police Department, was behind the wheel. The settlements, dating back to 2012, were worth more than $62,000.
In an interview, Rodriguez downplayed her accident record. In fact, she couldn't seem to remember how many she’d had.
“I’ve been on the police department for 24 years. I don’t know. I don’t count them,”Rodriguez said. “Who wants to reflect on an accident? It’s not something we go out here and do on purpose.”
Rodriguez is not the only accident-prone employee The District shelled out big bucks for.
D.C. wrote settlement checks of $35,000 and $5,800 for a fire inspector who is still on the job.
The government also paid nearly $66,000 for a correction officer who is still working for the department.
D.C. also agreed to settlements of $20,000, $13,000 and $8,600 for a Public Works employee, who is still driving for the city.
Public Works Director Chris Shorter said when it comes to disciplining employees for accidents, a one-size fits all policy is unfair.
“Me, as a director, saying that if you no matter what the circumstances, three accidents in a year let’s say, no matter what the context, we’re going to terminate your employment, would not be a smart approach to manage this agency,” Shorter said.
Shorter said just because an employee has an accident, it doesn't mean they were driving recklessly. He said sometimes "things just happen."
“Having an employee that runs into a fence while collecting trash recycling is very different than some of what your viewers might see in terms of very dangerous accidents that happen every day,” Shorter said.
Rather than simply firing employees with multiple accidents, Shorter said a better response is training and discipline within each employees individual agency.
K-9 Officer Rodriguez said she had faced discipline for her past accidents. Though she couldn't be sure if those were the crashes that led to her four accident settlements.
“I don’t know which ones you’re referring to,” Rodriguez said.
When D.C. government pays an accident settlement, the employee is not part of the hearing and not informed of the outcome.
Rodriguez also said the city doesn't contest accident claims.
“They don’t fight the accidents, and a lot of people make complaints and say that they got hurt and stuff happened and it didn't.” Rodriguez said. “The department does not fight on anybody’s behalf."
Jed Ross, who heads up the agency that handles accident settlements, said that’s not true.
“We review every single claim very stringently,” Ross said. “So no, we do not pay for things that we do not believe is in the best interest of The District.”
In August 2017, Mayor Bowser issued an order reaffirming a similar mandate in 2009 that said all government employees, including police, should drive safely and abide by all traffic laws.
However, there is no district wide set of guidelines as to what happens when government employees get in a crash. There is also no mandatory consequences for repeat offenders, despite the fact that with 6,000 city owed vehicles on the road, accidents are going to happen.
While D.C. continues to deny Officer Rodriguez’s claims that The District settles accident claims simply to make them go away, private attorney’s contacted by WUSA9 said anytime a claim is brought against the city, D.C. has to weigh the legal costs of fighting the case against settling out of court. Sometimes settling is simply cheaper.
D.C. said it is working on a new, government wide “Enterprise Risk Management System“ to better track and record accidents, including which ones could have been avoided. The Office of Risk Management hopes to have that new system implemented by the end of the year.
Accident settlements from 2013-2017 from highest to least amount paid:
PDF Updated January 2018