NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – A Norfolk woman is still in disbelief five months after a trash truck trashed her car and the city won’t pay for repairs.
On Wednesday, Oct. 12, Chavonne Grant had her car, a 2007 BMW 328, parked outside her house as always. Except on that day, a neighbor came running to her door after watching a city trash truck slide into her vehicle and get stuck.
“There’s a gaping hole right here, the whole tire rod, the tire was flattened,” Grant told 10 On Your Side. “All this. The bumper was pushed up, but the bumper was on the ground. It’s completely cracked through here. The hood had to be pushed down.”
It’s been five months since a city trash truck sliced her car and Grant’s 2007 BMW 328 has yet to be repaired.
“The driver was extremely apologetic,” Grant said. “He came out, he explained that he was covering a shift and he was moving too fast and over or underestimated my car.”
Grant said the driver told her the city’s insurance would cover damages and a police report was filed. After weeks of no response and reaching out to her city councilman, a third party adjuster was sent to survey Grant’s car. Two weeks later, she received a letter stating the city of Norfolk has sovereign immunity and would not be paying for repairs.
“I was extremely frustrated,” Grant said. “I’m a single mom. I was overwhelmed. This car is supposed to be my teenage daughter’s car. If I hit your car right now, I would be liable. It just makes it seem they can do anything to our property and I’m sure people are not aware of this.”
10 On Your Side reached out to attorney Tim Anderson, who is familiar with cases like this. He explains the law dates back to the 11th amendment, which states you can’t sue the federal government.
“The courts have said that applies to states, and the states can say if that applies to localities, and in Virginia it does,” Anderson said. “If the government is performing a core function, administerial act, like picking up trash, then if they damage your property, you can’t sue them. That’s the law.
“There’s not insurance companies that cover damages to the government. They self-insure. If cities want to allow themselves to be sued for negligence, it’s the taxpayers that are going to have to pay that. They have to raise taxes to make enough money to pay for all of the claims,” Anderson explained.
Norfolk’s city attorney’s office issued the following statement:
The City of Norfolk is committed to safety and ensures that employees operating City vehicles and equipment are trained accordingly. However, given the nature and extent of the City’s operations across numerous Departments and throughout the City, there unfortunately are situations where property damage occurs.
Information regarding the process for submitting a claim and the claims process is available on the City’s website. https://www.norfolk.gov/4402/Risk-Management-Division
When the City of Norfolk receives a claim for property damage, an investigation is conducted as we are obliged to make a determination whether the City is legally responsible for the damage. A determination whether the City has legal liability is based on the facts of the event and on application of the law to the facts. Many times, claimants present sympathetic cases for losses, but the City, like other local governmental entities, can only pay damages when it is legally liable.
Given that the money used to pay claims comes from public funds, the City, in the interests of its taxpayers, properly asserts all available defenses to claims made against it. Governmental immunity is such a defense. Under various federal and Virginia laws and court rulings, the City of Norfolk, like all other cities across Virginia, has immunity for many governmental functions, including refuse collection. When immunity is available as a defense, the City properly asserts it. If the City simply accepted all claims asserted against it without consideration of the defenses legally available to it, public funds would be drastically impacted.
With respect to the specific claim made by Ms. Chavonne Grant, the City first received the claim on January 23, 2023; the claim was thoroughly investigated; the claim was denied on February 21, 2023. The investigation determined that the City’s driver was actively picking up refuse at the time of the incident and that, therefore, the City had immunity with respect to this claim and is not liable. Given that the City is not liable and has denied the claim, it would be suggested that Ms. Grant should continue to pursue her property damage claim with her insurance company.
At the end of the day, Grant may have to sell her car because she said her insurance premium would double if she filed a claim with them.
“I’m just really disappointed at the city,” Grant said.
Anderson tells us the only exception to sovereign immunity is if you can prove gross negligence.
Grant is considering hiring an attorney.