Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

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April 18, 2013

Motorist seeks damages from city

By CHRIS AGEE

Following a collision with an exposed manhole cover that caused about $1,700 to her vehicle, Corrections Corporation of America employee Alicia Francis sought to receive damages from the city.

Francis appeared before Mineral Wells City Council earlier this month after her claim was initially denied by the city's insurance carrier.

According to City Clerk Juanita Formby, the Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool based its decision on the fact city staff filled in the area with gravel until permanent repairs could be made.

Though the gravel was eventually disbursed, leaving the manhole exposed again, Formby said insurers ruled to deny the claim because no one had called the city to notify staff of the situation.

City Manager Lance Howerton explained the TMLIRP opinion: the city had sovereign immunity in the case and was thus not liable for Francis' damages.

Council member Kevin Harrison, also a CCA employee, said he was one of the first to hear of his colleague's crash, explaining he and other co-workers were very much aware of the road hazard.

"I'm in a truck, so it didn't bother me," he said, though he recalled the incident and suggested the city bear a portion of the financial responsibility.

"You set a dangerous precedent," said City Attorney George Gault, explaining if a municipality is unaware of a situation, accepting liability will open the door for future abuses.

Several council members expressed concern for Francis, with Rick Bennett offering to personally help.

"I had to have a front-end alignment because of a pothole here in town. I'd be willing to give her $100 out of my pocket to help her as a single mom," he said, asking Gault if he could collect money privately to assist her.

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