It's bad enough to be in a car accident, but getting billed for the police and/or fire department response can make matters worse. And your insurance may not cover that.
Imagine you're cruising down the road when you hit a patch of black ice and slide into a guardrail. A passing motorist calls 911. Soon firetrucks and police arrive.
Weeks later, a $1,400 bill does, too -- for the cost of the police and firefighters who answered the call. What's worse, it's not covered by insurance, and it might scar your credit if you ignore it.
It's happening in a number of towns, cities and counties in at least 24 states. And given today's cratering economy (and property-tax revenue), more strapped local governments may be tempted to authorize so-called accident response fees.
Private vendors that promote such programs show up at city council meetings and police and fire chief conventions with model ordinances and fee schedules in hand. The vendors typically take a 10% cut of what's recovered.
Though five states (Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Tennessee) have banned "crash taxes" outright, insurers, lawmakers and vendors are squaring off elsewhere, even setting up warring Web sites such as Municipal Fee Facts and AccidentResponseFees.com. Who's caught in the middle? Drivers like you.
That'll be $2,200
Two years ago, Luke Gutilla lost control of his motorcycle along a road in Richland Township in Cambria County, Pa. He suffered a leg injury and was taken by ambulance to get treatment, which his insurance covered.
Several months later, Gutilla received a bill for nearly $2,200 for the services of seven firefighters, an assistant chief, two fire vehicles, three police cruises and three officers. The bill also itemized things like "brooms and mops and things that were just kind of strange," he recounted recently.