Imagine having to foot the bill for something that wasn't your fault. That's exactly what happened to Sharon McDermott.
McDermott's car was damaged last March in a parking lot on the UConn campus. That lot is in disrepair and riddled with potholes, uneven pavement and exposed rebar. It was a piece of rebar that destroyed her front bumper to the tune of $2,700.
"The rebar had come loose from the curbing and literally hooked my bumper," said McDermott.
McDermott filed a claim with the state for the money since the lot is state-owned property. Weeks later, the state admitted it was to blame in a letter to McDermott, saying, “In this case, the poor condition of the parking spot in the University's Lot 9 did cause the damage to the claimant's car."
"I then went to have the car fixed and the state came back to me and said that I would need to file with my insurance company in order to have damages taken care of. It raised a huge red flag, because I knew the second my insurance company got involved it was going to be a problem," McDermott said.
Turns out, she was right. In March of this year, her car insurance jumped from $3,200 to more than $5,400. NBC Connecticut called McDermott's insurance company, Travelers, to find out why since McDermott says she has no other claims that would trigger such a radical jump. Travelers would not comment because of privacy concerns, but McDermott says she was told the hike is because of the parking lot claim.
"It's ridiculous because I'm not responsible," McDermott said in frustration.
J. Paul Vance Jr. is the state's claims commissioner. He says McDermott followed the state's policy to a "T."
"The procedure of this office is to have people submit their claims to their insurance, if there is insurance. This was motor vehicle so there was car insurance," said Vance.
The claims office then reimburses the insurance deductible. In McDermott's case, she received a check for $500. The commissioner says those who don't submit a claim with their auto insurance would probably still receive a check equaling their policy's deductible. The difference, though is those claimants don't run the risk of increased premiums. McDermott says she was told she had no choice but to use her own insurance. Now her new premiums will cost her an extra $8,000 over the next 4 years.
"She is footing the bill for the state of Connecticut," said McDermott's state representative, Tim Ackert, who is now trying to change the policy that has been in place since the '80s. But Commissioner Vance says he thinks the policy works and says he only has a $75,000 budget to pay for claims like McDermott's even though claims often exceed that number. Just last year, the office paid more than $143,000 for 375 claims.
"I think the policy makes sense just because we have a limited scope of authority and we have limited funds," said Vance.
The Commissioner also said it's McDermott's insurance company that's to blame for raising her rates and treating her unfairly.
"I think the insurance company should decide to work with her, but I know they can be tough. I used to work for one," Vance told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters.
McDermott, though, isn't the only person in this situation and Vance now worries there could be more in the future, especially if Lot 9 isn't repaired.
According the University though, repairs have been shelved indefinitely to make room for other priorities.
Until it’s fixed, you won't find McDermott parking anywhere near the curbing. She says she just can't afford too.
"The public needs to know and the public needs to be outraged," said McDermott.
Commissioner Vance and Rep. Ackert have scheduled a meeting with the State Insurance Commissioner on September 14th to try and rectify McDermott's situation.