California looks to tap general fund for accident payouts

jortiz@sacbee.comAugust 28, 2013 

Lawmakers are on the verge of sending a measure to Gov. Jerry Brown that will tap the state's general fund to pay nearly $21 million for legal settlements of two automobile accidents involving state workers.

Normally, the money would come from an obscure state self-insurance fund maintained with contributions from departments. But the two lawsuit settlements, and a third multimillion-dollar payout earlier this year, would strain the Motor Vehicle Insurance Account. The fund averages about $38 million in payouts each year against $45 million it takes in from premiums.

Assembly Bill 234 has cleared the lower chamber and is now poised for a Senate floor vote. It would pay $15 million to the two daughters of a man killed on a San Bernardino freeway last year after he was rear-ended by a state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employee driving 70 mph in a state vehicle. Most of the money will be placed in trusts for the man's two daughters, who were ages 4 and 7 when he died.

The balance of the money in AB 234 covers a personal injury settlement with a motorcyclist who collided with a state car driven by a Department of Public Health employee on a San Leandro street. The motorcyclist was left paralyzed from the chest down as a result of the 2011 accident.

A mediator found that both parties were equally at fault – the state employee failed to yield to an oncoming driver and the motorcyclist was speeding. State attorneys negotiated a $5.75 million settlement, with 40 percent of the money earmarked to buy an annuity that will pay for the injured man's medical care. Taken with a $15.6 million payout a few months ago, the state has settled three cases totaling more than $36 million. Paying the money from the state insurance account would threaten its viability, legislative analysts say, so lawmakers are dipping into the general fund to pay the bills.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

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