‘People backing into things’: Pitkin County insurance claims multiply
Increase in auto claims as well as workers’ comp issues prompt mitigation measures
Auto insurance and workers’ comp claims from Pitkin County employees have skyrocketed in recent years, prompting mitigation measures to try to bring the claims and expenses down, an official said Friday.
In particular, the auto claims — which have increased tenfold in seven years — are such a concern that the county has formed an accident review committee to examine the issue and could assign employees to driver’s ed classes next year, said Cathy Lutzkanin, Pitkin County’s risk manager.
“We see a lot of our people backing into things,” Lutzkanin told county commissioners last week during budget hearings, also noting that other employees had rear-ended drivers. “It’s things we’re absolutely at fault for.”
Pitkin County filed three auto insurance claims in 2015, which cost $5,687 to settle. This year, 30 auto claims have been filed so far, costing the county $82,945, according to statistics provided by Lutzkanin to commissioners. The high mark in the past seven years was 2019 when 31 claims were filed, costing $125,213.
In defense of county employees, Lutzkanin said workers are driving longer distances and that more county vehicles are on the road today than in 2015. In addition, the county’s risk management practices changed in recent years so that even minor fender-benders are reported that may not have been noted before, she said.
Still, none of that fully explains the massive increase in just six years.
“It’s not enough to account for the variability,” Lutzkanin said.
Commissioner Patti Clapper suggested defensive driving classes last week, and Lutzkanin wholeheartedly endorsed the idea.
“It’s part of my plan for 2022,” Lutzkanin said. “In my opinion, we need to do it for anyone who drives a county vehicle or anyone who uses their private vehicle for county business. It’s a big risk for us as we drive more and more.”
Worker’s comp claims are a bit of a different story, she said, because the severity of the injury dictates the price of the claim. Still, 2021 saw both the highest number of worker’s comp claims in the past seven years as well as, by far, the highest cost of claims, according to Lutzkanin’s statistics.
In 2015, 17 workers reported on-the-job injuries, costing the county just under $62,000. This year, 29 claims have been filed, which have cost more than $555,000 to settle, according to the statistics.
Part of the issue this year lies with Mountain Rescue Aspen, which is covered under the county’s worker’s comp insurance. Five of the 29 claims this year have come from MRA members, including one very serious injury, she said.
“I don’t think they’ve had one this severe in a while,” Lutzkanin said. “It’s unusual. They’re typically a very safe organization.”
A female MRA volunteer was seriously injured in early August in a steep section of Capitol Peak during the attempted recovery of a body when climbers above her triggered rockfall. She suffered a severely broken leg, multiple pelvis breaks and a fractured vertebrae, an official said at the time, and faced months of physical therapy.
The MRA claims had a “really negative effect on the overall county rates we pay for worker’s comp insurance,” Lutzkanin told commissioners. So as of last week, MRA has a separate, no-deductible insurance policy to cover the organization’s members that cost $25,000 for the upcoming year, she said.
Inmates at the Pitkin County Jail also caused serious injuries to employees this year, contributing to the high cost.
The county expects to pay 20% to 25% more in insurance premiums next year for workers’ comp, liability and other insurance necessities, Lutzkanin said.