Traffic Crash Fees a New Trend

Emergency Vehicles

Henry Rotter is an 85-year-old WWII veteran. He repairs his own roof and spends his evenings sitting with a sick friend dependent on a breathing tube.

Because he's so busy, he didn't think much about a fender-bender he got into this February. That is until he received a bill for $276.08 from the Cost Recovery Corporation out of New Carlisle, Ohio.

It's a third party collection agency hired by the City of Chiefland to charge and collect payment for police responses to traffic accidents. The company had billed Rotter's insurance carrier which refused payment. So, Cost Recovery billed Rotter.

The City of Chiefland passed an ordinance last October implementing fair and equitable user fees for emergency police response. Police Chief Robert Douglas got the idea from his friend the chief in Belleview Florida.

Douglas says his 11 officers must cover a town of 2700 residents that swells to a population of 20,000 during the day. So, he needed to supplement his $1 million budget. So far the department has received $6,000. But, Douglas says the program is voluntary. Yet, that's not made clear on Henry Rotter's invoice.

The President of Cost Recovery says each city determines how aggressively they should pursue individuals for payment. Regina Moore says there are several companies in the business of collecting fees for fire rescue calls. But, what makes her company different she says they bill for police calls too. They even put a patent on the process.

Moore says Cost Recovery has about a dozen Florida clients and she recruited about two dozen more while attending the Florida Police Chiefs Association's summer conference last month.

She says about 50 percent of the insurance companies billed pay. However, she declined to name any.

But insurance policies do not pay for a police car showing up and taking an accident scene report according to Mary Bonelli with the Ohio Insurance Institute, a trade organization that has lobbied against charging police response fees.

'Not only are your local residents already paying for this type service through their taxes,' says Bonelli. 'What you're also finding is it's not uniformly applied meaning that anybody who is uninsured doesn't get billed.'

When it comes to the City of Chiefland, Henry Rotter does not plan to pay the fee charged for his fender bender. Chiefland's police chief says he will not ruin someone's credit over what he says is a voluntary program.

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