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Ohio bill would limit governments’ ability to claim they’re immune from damages in crashes

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Catherine Ingram, D- Cincinnati, was spurred in part by a 10 Investigates report last summer.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — An Ohio lawmaker is sponsoring a bill in the Ohio Statehouse that would limit local governments’ ability to claim they are immune from liability in motor vehicle crashes involving government-owned vehicles.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Catherine Ingram, D- Cincinnati, was spurred in part by a 10 Investigates report last summer.

Ingram mentioned 10 Investigates’ reporting during a hearing Tuesday.

As part of our reporting last year, 10 Investigates reviewed 108 claims for damages that were submitted to the 

Columbus city attorney’s office by drivers who alleged their vehicles sustained damage after being struck by a Columbus police officer or another government-owned vehicle.

In 60% of those cases, 10 Investigates found the city denied payment – claiming it was immune under Ohio law.

10 Investigates found the city claimed its officers were responding to emergency runs – but the term “emergency” is loosely defined in Ohio law to include “any call to service…” Lawmakers in the Ohio Statehouse have attempted to correct that language as well to more sharply define “emergency.”

Ingram’s bill would add to that effort – but limiting when local governments and political subdivisions can claim immunity.

House Bill 472, reads in part:

“… a political subdivision is liable in damages in a civil action for injury, death, or loss to person or property allegedly caused by an act or omission of the political subdivision or of any of its employees in connection with a governmental or proprietary function, as follows: (1) Except as otherwise provided in this division, political subdivisions are liable for injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by the negligent operation of any motor vehicle by their employees when the employees are engaged within the scope of their employment and authority…”

The bill would allow governments to collect if the plaintiff in the case was fleeing or evading arrest. The bill also limits how much citizens would be able to collect in damages.

Ingram told the House civil justice committee that she does expect opposition from law enforcement and municipalities who have expressed concern about being held liable – or at least the insurance companies -  for too many claims.

Rep. Derek Merrin, R – Monclova, said he was mystified that citizens wouldn’t be made whole by accidents that were no fault of their own, adding that lawmakers need to correct this.

Another hearing is expected next week.

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