State of Maryland Bills Deceased Driver for Damage to Guardrail following Fatal Rte 32 Car Accident

Some things that occur in this life are just not right, and everybody knows it. When an individual is seriously hurt or killed in a traffic accident, there are no words that one can say to the family of that victim, yet as friends, relatives and neighbors we try to offer some measure of comfort and condolence. Large organizations, while comprised of living, thinking and feeling persons, are less adept at providing a sympathetic ear or shoulder on which to cry.

As Maryland personal injury lawyers who serve the residents of Baltimore, Frederick, Hagerstown and the District, we see on a regular basis the pain and suffering that families and individual experience following horrendous trucking accidents, automobile collisions and motorcycle wrecks. The fact is, there are no words that can adequately ease the grief of a mother or father that has lost a son or daughter to a tragic roadway accident.

A while back, in May of this year, a young woman died in a fatal single-vehicle car crash along a stretch of Rte 32 in Columbia, MD. At the time, 21-year-old Sarah Stebbins was planning to enter Howard Community College in the fall. A 2008 graduate of Howard High School, Stebbins was a racing enthusiast and, according to news account, an award-winning equestrian rider; on the day of her death, Stebbins was coming home from her job at the Gray Pony Saddle and Tack Shop in Highland, Maryland.

According to news reports, the woman died when her vehicle crashed into a guardrail on Rte 32 after she apparently lost control of the vehicle. No mention was made in this latest news item whether or not the accident was a result of driver error or defective vehicle equipment. However, that is not the crux of the story.

In this instance, nearly three months after their daughter’s tragic death, Tom and Valerie Stebbins received in the mail a letter from the State of Maryland addressed to their deceased daughter. Based on news reports, Mrs. Stebbins opened the envelope only to learn that the state was demanding repayment for damage to the very same guardrail that her daughter crashed into during that fatal accident. The letter reportedly was a bill to the late Ms. Stebbins for $640.71 in repairs to that guardrail.

While the state is not in the habit of sending bills to deceased motorists for damage incurred during a fatal accident, apparently in this instance the bureaucracy failed to adhere to policy and sent the letter and bill to the Stebbins home. The Maryland’s State Highway Administration (SHA) usually bills drivers for damage that has been caused to state property in non-fatal accidents, internal SHA policy is to waive the charges when the driver is killed; this includes instances where a motorist may died weeks or months after an accident, in which case the SHA will refund any monies already paid by the victim.

Of course, this was a mix up of tragic proportions, especially for the mother, who ended up reliving the event as she read the contents of the letter, which also included a copy of the accident report detailing how her daughter’s Nissan Xterra spun out and then rolled over after crashing into the barrier on the side of the roadway. A sketch of the accident scene was also included and the box indicating there was a fatality involved as checked off — Ms. Stebbins was the only person in the SUV at the time of the crash.

Although a spokesperson for the SHA said the sending of the letter was an inexcusable error and had been rescinded, the damage had already been done. Needless to saym the family was very upset by the incident. We can only hope that better oversight will help to avoid future repetitions of this shockingly cold and heartless correspondence to a family still mourning the loss of a loved one.

Killed in crash, billed by the state;, August 20, 2011

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