By Alex Bridges
Front Royal resident Siobhan Reagan recently found out the meaning of "sovereign immunity" after a town snow plow damaged her car.
Reagan says a plow struck her Hyundai Sonata parked at the intersection of Oak Street and Luray Avenue the day after the Feb 13 snowstorm. But the town's insurance provider determined that Reagan was at fault and thus responsible for her own vehicle, she told the Northern Virginia Daily.
"It was my Happy Valentine's Day," Reagan recalled.
The plow struck the driver's side of Reagan's vehicle and caused several thousands of dollars worth of damage, she said. Reagan ultimately paid a $250 deductible for the repairs, but she said the incident also affected her insurance status.
Reagan provided photographs of the damaged car to a town official and suggested she look at the vehicle.
"They said, 'we've done our investigation' and the other thing she said was 'we find that the town believes that they've caused no damage,'" Reagan recalled.
Front Royal Risk Manager Sue McIntosh confirmed Monday the results of the claim Reagan filed.
McIntosh said that they did an investigation and determined that it would not be covered.
Reagan criticized the town over the process by which she had to file a claim only to learn later that Front Royal is protected by sovereign immunity and by the fact that the incident happened as a result of the town conducting emergency operations.
Reagan added that she didn't find out for almost two weeks later that the town's insurance provider had investigated her claim and determined she was responsible for the damage. Reagan said she waited for several days and filed a claim through her own insurance provider when she had not heard back from the town and needed her vehicle for work.
Reagan said she could understand the situation had she parked her vehicle on a major road or a street designated as a snow emergency route.
"In [Washington] D.C., they tell you point blank that you are liable if you're on an emergency plow route and your car ... gets hit and they're not responsible," Reagan said. "That's understandable."
Town Manager Steve Burke said that Front Royal does not have designated snow routes but its snow emergency plan prioritizes removal from aerial roads followed by neighborhood streets. The town alerts residents via newsletters, press releases, on its website and Facebook page about the snow removal policies.
While Reagan did not see the plow hit her car, she said neighbors advised her that they had witnessed it. She said a neighbor told her the plowing vehicle appeared to be traveling fast down the street. The plow struck the windows and left the vehicle vulnerable to snow and ice, she said. The moisture damaged some of the vehicle's interior.
Reagan said she has watched trucks travel down neighborhood roads and none of the vehicles appeared to come from the town.
"You could literally hire anyone and then, three days after a snowstorm they could be just moseying down the street and they could do anything," Reagan said. "They could just have a car accident and, oh, we're not at fault."
The town uses its own workers to plow roads.
"We didn't contract any work for on-street clearing, with the exception of Main Street for the sidewalks," Burke said. "All of the street work was done by town forces."
A plow struck her vehicle earlier in the season and knocked off a side-view mirror, Reagan said. That incident also resulted in Reagan paying the insurance deductible to cover the repair work. Each collision also has cost Reagan not only money up front but she said also raises the risk that her insurance rates could go up.
Reagan said the town should tell people upfront that the government's insurance likely won't cover the claim.
"It was a complete charade," Reagan said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org