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Accidents happen

By Rachael Myer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 6, 1998
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UA students and employees who smash up a vehicle while on university business are protected by the state's self-insurance, but state officials and administrators can face liability headaches and big bills.

From July 1995 to June 1998, the University of Arizona received 191 liability claims involving university vehicles and paid out $406,425 in damages, said Steve Holland, director of risk management and safety.

In one of the UA's most tragic cases, a student was killed in 1990 when a university Suburban overturned on Interstate 10 near Eloy, about 60 miles north of Tucson. Seven other students were injured, and the state of Arizona eventually paid a total of $642,000 to four victims.

A "business decision" was made to settle that case without a lawsuit, Holland said. But if the state refuses to pay a claim or the state's settlement offer does not satisfy a claimant, a lawsuit could follow.

The state attorney general's office and Arizona Department of Administration's Risk Management Section decide how cases are handled, not the UA, said Tom Thompson, interim general counsel for the university.

One lawsuit was recently filed in Pima County Superior Court. Two women who claim they were injured when they were rear-ended by a graduate student driving a UA vehicle in July 1997 are suing the student, the Arizona Board of Regents, the state of Arizona and the university for injuries and lost wages.

The UA's liability varies depending on the situation, Thompson said.

If an accident occurs while the vehicle is legally being used for a university-related purpose, the UA can be held liable, Thompson said. The university will notify Arizona's Risk Management Section, which handles claims for the state, and the state may pay the claim through its self-insurance.

But if a person uses a UA vehicle in an unauthorized, illegal manner for non-university business, the UA might not be held liable in court, Thompson said. For example, if someone steals a car and uses it, the UA would probably not be responsible, he said.

Rachael Myer can be reached via e-mail at Rachael.Myer@wildcat.arizona.edu.