Highway agencies, at all levels, are confronted with aging highway systems, increasing demands on those systems, and limited resources to maintain and upgrade them. At the same time, highway tort claims made against highway agencies at all levels of government are growing. Estimates of payments on tort claims for 1991 alone ranged from $145 to $345 million. However, there is no accurate nationwide database or information system to track key indicators of the highway tort liability environment, such as the magnitude and growth rate of claims and settlement payments, the resources devoted to tort claim prevention and defense, or the types of roadway conditions associated with tort losses. This lack of a reliable information base is impeding policy and risk-management efforts to develop, implement, and evaluate strategies and programs designed to lessen future losses from highway tort claims. The best estimates of current tort activity are based on analysis of responses to surveys conducted by the Administrative Subcommittee on Legal Affairs of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). The usefulness of this voluntary reporting system has been hampered by incomplete and declining state participation and by inconsistent reporting. These problems may be symptoms of confused or differing interpretations of the survey questions. The length and scope of the AASHTO survey, approximately 18 pages with more than 400 data items requested, may also account for the recent decline in the response rate. Another difficulty may lie in differing state definitions of terms used in the questions.
To resolve these problems and move toward developing the type of tort information needed by state policy makers and program administrators, research was done to investigate the feasibility of a uniform national data-management system for highway tort claims. This study addressed matters such as what data should be collected, the amount of data that should be collected, the frequency of data collection, the collection mechanism (including the possibility of electronic means), responsibilities and procedures for ensuring data quality control, the feasibility of standardized terminology, current capabilities of the states, and reporting systems. Emphasis was given to designing a system that would be cost-effective, would not impose undue data-collection burdens on state departments of transportation, and would provides useful information for individual states in their planning and administration.
The objective of this research was to design and investigate the feasibility of a uniform, national data-management system for highway tort claims.
The system was designed to provide the core information that a state department of transportation needs to effectively manage its exposure to highway tort claims. Phase I of this effort entailed an assessment of what, why, and how information is collected and maintained by states and a determination of needed improvements. This phase included a preliminary design of a model data-management system. Phase II of this project involved the construction and pilot testing of the model, an assessment of the results, and estimates of what it would require for a national data-management system for highway tort claims.
This research was accomplished by the following tasks.
Phase I: (1) Current Needs and State Capabilities -- Collect information from all states on their needs and existing capabilities related to highway tort claims data-information systems. Primary interest was on the types of tort data included in the systems, definitions of data categories used, storage media, retrieval capabilities, and agency and organizational-level responsibilities for maintaining the systems. Also of interest were the principal uses made of the tort data beyond claims administration and litigation, any linkages the claims information systems may have to other highway management systems, and the perceived benefits of a national system. Evaluate the efficacy of the data requested in Part 4 (Claims Statistics) and Part 6 (Highway Deficiencies) of the AASHTO Survey on the Status of Sovereign Immunity in the States 1992
and identify difficulties in completing the survey and other deficiencies. (2) Policy Needs Assessment--Determine the most critical tort and risk-management information needs for public policy making from state and national perspectives. (3) Model Data-Management System--Based on the needs assessment made in Task 2 of this project, design a model for a uniform, national data-management system that could assist a state to effectively manage its exposure to highway tort risk. Specify the data elements and definitions, data-collection methods, and options and recommendations for administering the data-management system. Assess possible technical and practical obstacles to state participation in the program and estimate the costs of administration and reporting. Include recommendations for hardware and software environments, consider potential use of the Internet's World Wide Web, and assess possible agencies suitable for administering the system at the national level. (4) Interim Report -- Submit a Phase I interim report that includes a synthesis of information developed in Tasks 1 and 2 and the recommended model of Task 3. The interim report named the states recommended for participation in the Task 5 pilot testing. The NCHRP panel reviewed the interim report before proceeding with Phase II. The contractor met with the NCHRP panel to discuss the proposed research plan.
Phase II: (5) Model Construction and Testing--Complete the model development, and implement, test, and refine the model based on pilot testing. This pilot test determined the ability of six selected states to gather tort information in a consistent manner. Demonstrate that the model meets the tort and risk-management information needs for public policy making within and among states and from a national perspective. (6) Feasibility Assessment--Based on preceding tasks, assess the feasibility of a national data- management system for highway tort claims. This assessment included: (a) the willingness and ability of states to participate in the national system; (b) any potential costs imposed on the states; (c) potential benefits to users and others; (d) possible technical and practical obstacles to state participation in the program; and (e) the needs for continued operation, maintenance, and enhancement of the national system. (7) Final Report--Document the entire research effort and include a description of a national data-management system and costs for its implementation.
Project is completed. The revised final report was delivered April 30, 2003.
The final report is available online as NCHRP Web Document 57