City approves two settlements for city bus accidents

City council members approved two settlements Tuesday to women injured in September city bus accidents.

The settlements, which total $31,500 for accidents Sept. 19 and 24 involving Wichita Transit buses, will be paid to two women hurt in car-bus accidents, according to city documents. Both will be paid out of the city’s embattled transit department budget, since the city’s liability insurance does not include the transit service.

The Sept. 19 accident in the 200 block of North Broadway, settled for $12,000, involves a woman injured when the vehicle she was riding in was struck by a city bus. The accident five days later in 300 block of South Hydraulic, settled for $19,500, involves a woman who was on a bus when it struck another vehicle.

Whether the city continues to pay accident claims out of the transit budget — essentially self-insurance — remains to be seen, City Manager Robert Layton said after the meeting. Council members cut city services last year by $500,000 to bridge a budget shortfall traced primarily to a 2011 claim for $325,000, paid out of the transit budget.

“We’re going to re-evaluate it and determine if we should bring it into our insurance,” Layton said.

The self-insurance program probably dates back to the days when the bus system was privately owned, the city manager said. Layton inherited the self-insurance concept when he became city manager five years ago.

“At that time, there were a number of significant claims pending, and it wasn’t the appropriate time to bring the insurance fund into our claims fund,” he said. “I also wanted to see a tighter loss-control program. There’s an element of accountability if transit pays for its own claims.”

Layton wasn’t sure if other cities self-insure bus systems, but said large losses aren’t uncommon in transit plans.

“Either way, it doesn’t matter because the property taxpayers pay — either a premium or the claims,” he said. “If I had my druthers, we’d have more cost accounting and attribution back to our cost centers. It emphasizes the importance of accountability.”