This winter, snow plows were our saviors, parting the seas of snow and making transportation possible.
“Mostly I commend the plow drivers, they did a great job,” said Mary Rickard of Jamaica Plain.
But Rickard also thinks the plows made some mistakes. She came out one morning to find more than $4,000 in damage to her parked 2011 Toyota Camry. There was a plow-sized dent, a busted front bumper, a broken headlight — and no note from the perpetrator.
"I guess ethically you would hope that would happen," Rickard said. "But in the middle of the blizzards that we had this past winter, I bet it happened all the time. And I think they just said ‘Oops, that was a car, and kept going.’”
Spring’s here, but local body shops are busy dealing with fallout from winter — damage some drivers found after uncovering cars buried for weeks; damage, perhaps, with the tell-tale shape or the yellow paint of a snowplow.
If a plow driver hits a car and doesn’t leave a note, it’s technically a crime — a hit and run — and many owners of damaged cars filed police reports.
Boston has a process in place for people who think their property was damaged by a plow, and the city saw a huge increase in people using that process this winter. In the first three months of 2015 alone, people filed 162 snowplow damage claims with the city. That’s almost as many as Boston received during the four previous years combined.
WGBH News reviewed about 100 claims from 2015 and found only three cases in which claimants mention a note being left on their car. In a dozen cases people were able to flag plow drivers down, but a claimant reported one driver refused to give his name; another said he’d return with his information, but never did.
Some claimants say the immense amount of work plow drivers did this winter makes accidents understandable. But Ivey St. John of Charlestown says plow drivers were too cavalier about mistakes. She says members of her condo association saw a snowplow driver hit and damage their wrought-iron fence.
"Couldn’t agree more that it was a difficult winter," St. John said. "All of us are tired of it, all of us were worn out by it. But there is a modicum of civility that is needed in these circumstances. And the city needs to be aware that there needs to be sensitivity to community standards. And GTA Landscaping violated again and again those community standards."
Map: Boston Snowplow Damage Claims
Click the points for more information.
Information from neighboring cities:
Winter 2014-2015: 24 snow plow property damage claims; none have been paid; 5 have been denied; settlements are being negotiated in two cases.
Winter 2013-2014: 10 snow plow property damage claims; city paid two and denied four. Four remain open.
Jan-March 2015: 15 snow plow damage claims; all are open.
2014: 214 snow plow damage claims.
2013: 133 snow plow damage claims.
Jan-Feb 2015: 21 snow plow damage claims; two have been denied.
Jan-Feb 2014: 12 snow plow damage claims; 9 were paid and three are pending.
GTA Landscaping is a city snowplow contractor for the Charlestown area. Its president, Greg Antonelli, says he’s also being bombarded with calls from people who say his crews damaged cars.
"Did we hit some? Yeah, there are some current claims going on right now," Antonelli said. "If we hit them, we take responsibility for them. It’s no issue. But what we can’t understand is people wake up four days after a snowstorm, by the time they go out and shovel their cars, if they have something scratched or broken, they automatically think it’s us — with no record of it. You know, put yourself in our shoes."
The city didn’t respond to requests for details about what proof is required for it to pay a claim — for example, if someone had to see the accident happen. But the threshold appears to be high. From 2010 to 2014, the city denied almost 86 percent of snowplow damage claims. Thus far this winter Boston has denied 25 percent of claims filed. There is no appeal process for denied claims, but Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he’s considering one.
Meanwhile, the city earns $15 for every claim filed. The fee irritated Dwayne de Four, who says his parked 2004 Acura TSX was hit by a snowplow driver in Dorchester.
"lt just seems kind of odd that they would hit you, you have to pay them money to file a claim, as well as take the time off work," de Four said. "You know, I had to borrow somebody’s car so I could make the trip in time. It was a pain.”
The city says it investigates every snowplow damage claim, using GPS data to identify the responsible driver as a city employee or a city contractor. If it’s a contractor, the city directs claimants to follow up with those companies. In Rodney Poles’ case, it was a city driver who hit his 2006 Honda Accord in Roslindale in late January.
"He plowed into the back of my car and he was still there," Poles said. "He didn’t hit and run, which was great, so I was able to get his information. He said, ‘Oh don’t worry about it, these things happen all the time, but it’ll be quick and easy.’”
Poles filed a claim with the city for $8,000 in damage.
"To this day, I still haven’t gotten any money back from the city for that accident because they’re still trying to track down the driver and interview him," he said.
The same city driver shows up in another claim six days later, when he allegedly struck an ambulance parked at a West Roxbury nursing home, causing nearly $900 in damage.
The only way to be sure your vehicle is safe from snowplows during a Boston winter is not to have one, Rickard says. That’s what she’s thinking of doing.
"That’s the big end of the story," she said. "Do you sell your car and just give up because it was too hard to park on the streets of Boston?"
Rickard says she’ll be ready to answer that question with a “yes” as soon as improvements are made to the MBTA system.