Assessment of Tort Liability Risk Management in the Virginia Department of Transportation: Final Report

Report No: 89-R8

Published in 1988

About the report:

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) faces a growing tort liability problem. Under the Virginia Tort Claims Act, VOOT is liable for up to $75,000 for negligent or wrongful acts or omissions committed by its employees within the scope of their employment. VOOT must also pay judgments rendered against its employees as individuals for acts of negligence committed within the scope of their employment. In many cases, sovereign immunity will protect VOOT employees from tort claims. However, courts are increasingly willing to find state employees liable for negligent acts or omissions. To control future liability exposure, VDOT must develop a program to reduce the risk of tort liability. A comprehensive risk management system would attack the problem at three points. First, by making the roadways safer, the number of claims would be held to a minimum. Second, by improving VDOT's ability to defend tort claims, the number of claims paid and amounts awarded would be held to a minimum. Finally, by quickly settling claims that VDOT will inevitably lose and by setting aside money to pay such claims, a risk management program would assure that VDOT is prepared for unavoidable tort liability. This report documents the findings of the initial phase of VDOT's effort to develop a comprehensive risk management system. The purpose of this phase was to assess VDOT's exposure to tort liability and to describe existing efforts for controlling risk. In subsequent phases, the findings discussed herein will be used to design and implement improvements in VDOT's existing risk management efforts. VDOT's risk-causing activities include the design, construction, and maintenance of roadways. Claims alleging negligent maintenance are the most frequently filed, but only 13 percent of these claims are paid. The low success rate of these claimants indicates that VDOT is effectively responding to roadway defects even though there are currently no formalized procedures for ensuring an effective response. VDOT obtains information about roadway defects from many sources. However, there are no uniform policies for collecting such information or for agency-wide distribution of the important information produced by these various sources. VDOT attempts to transfer some risks to contractors and consultants through indemnity and insurance agreements. Risks that cannot be prevented or transferred are assumed through self-insurance.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


Other Authors

Donald Culkin, Adam C. Thackston, Willard A. Stanback

Last updated: December 28, 2023

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