Development and Implementation of a National Data Management System for Highway Tort Claims
NCHRP Project A11-7 determined that it was feasible to develop a national data management system for collecting and disseminating highway tort claims information. The report suggested that such a system was feasible if: (1) appropriate resources were devoted to the effort, including accessibility to necessary internal state systems; (2) technical changes were made to the way data was collected and stored by the states, including an effort to standardize coding and improve data entry; (3) the system would use a dynamic data standard that would evolve into a more unified and common process; and (4) a single contract agency was identified to audit and manage the system.
The need for A11-7 has not changed, and is appreciably greater now than when the A11-7 project was funded. More than ever before, highway agencies at all levels are confronted with aging highway systems, increasing demands on those systems, and limited resources to maintain and upgrade those systems. The estimated payments on tort claims for calendar year 1991 ranged between $145 and $500 million dollars. That estimate would likely pale in comparison to today's data. Unfortunately, there is no nationwide database or information system to track key indicators of highway tort liability, such as the magnitude and growth rate of claims and settlement payments, the resources devoted to tort claim prevention/risk management, or even the types of roadway conditions/features associated with tort losses. That inability to accurately quantify those expenditures literally represents billions of dollars of expenditures that are unavailable as a planning or resource tool, much less available for construction or maintenance of roadway facilities.
OBJECTIVE: The development and implementation of a nationwide data management system for tort claims information to provide policy and decision makers with the necessary tool to determine what tort losses they are incurring, how that compares to their peers, and provide information necessary to determine not only where they should spend their money to manage the risks and losses associated with tort claims, but to also provide a framework to compare with other states to determine what legislative relief they could seek to improve specific liability situations that they may be in because of current state law.
Urgency: The need was overwhelming enough to support the previous research, and has only grown in the past 15 years. As tort claims losses continue to mount, less and less money is available to support the construction and maintenance programs of transportation agencies. The historical challenges continue today, but other challenges have arisen as well. Innovative design, construction and financing practices add new elements and risks to the already daunting tort liability scene. What tort claims challenges lie ahead arising from context sensitive or practical design, design build, leasing of facilities and other innovations are virtually unknown at this time as liability is always the tail of that process. However, the overwhelming lack of national consistent data in these areas will doom the decision makers to making those decisions with no idea of the resulting tort liability impacts.
Cost: The development and implementation of the base system may cost around $400,000, but that is only an estimate based upon the original project and scope of development and testing. It is possible that an off-the-shelf data management system could be identified that would cut the cost of development, that possibility exists, but is not herein quantified. The cost of managing and auditing the system would not be included in the project.
User Community: AASHTO, and AASHTO member states, FHWA, NHTSA
Implementation: The report would deliver a data management system that could be installed by highway transportation agencies and managed and audited by a contract agency.
Effectiveness: A working system would provide accurate tort claims data that could be used for planning, design, construction, maintenance and risk management purposes by transportation agencies, including legislative efforts to improve statutory liability conditions. The information will assist legislators in understanding the true dollar impact of tort claims liability on transportation agencies.