Reporting Karen Anderson
BOSTON (CBS) – It happens to everyone — a fender bender — and it’s a headache.
But wait until you see what a mess the bureaucracy can really be if you feel you’re being unfairly charged for that accident.
The I-Team found there is a 22,000 case backlog and a nine month wait for motorists who want to appeal to a special state board.
One day, Donna Halper of Quincy was waiting at a red light outside the South Shore Plaza. When it turned green, she started to move forward, but the SUV in front of her did not.
“I don’t know if you could even call it an accident,” Halper said. “My car tapped another car.”
But what she calls a little bump turned into a big headache.
“I get a notice from my insurance company telling me that I’m going to be surcharged because of the fact that I was in an accident,” Halper said.
The surcharge, an extra $180 a year on her insurance bill, was assessed before she had a chance to tell her side of the story to the board of appeal.
“I’d like to have my day in court,” she said.
But that won’t happen any day soon. This is the voice message Halper heard when she called the state Division of Insurance to file an appeal: ” …The current backlog of appeals is over 22,000 and the average wait time for a hearing to be scheduled is about nine months.”
“Twenty-two thousand people having to wait for justice? Having to wait to have their case heard for up to nine months, maybe even longer? I was stunned,” Halper said.
The commissioner of the Division of Insurance, Joseph Murphy, admitted there is a problem.
“I appreciate the frustration and we’re working on it,” Murphy said when asked about the enormous backlog of appeals. “We’re trying to get that down to something more manageable, something we can live with and consumers can live with as well.”
Murphy pointed out that Massachusetts is the only state in the country that allows drivers to appeal surcharges this way.
But that’s small consolation to Halper.
“If I’m going to be charged an extra $180, I’d like to be able to make my case in a timely fashion with the hope that it could be reversed,” she said.
It costs each motorist $50 to appeal a surcharge. That means the current backlog alone adds up to more than $1 million in fees, all of which go directly into the state’s general fund.
The only good news here is that among the people who do finally have their appeals heard, about half win and get the surcharge wiped off their insurance bill.