A suburban family stood its ground for more than half a year after they said a Chicago transportation agency damaged their car and declined their accident claim. But upon the discovery of a surprise video clip and a call to NBC 5 Responds, the family’s vehicle is finally being repaired at no cost to the family or its insurance provider.
Denise Zajac said it’s been a frustrating seven months, but there is a reason why she refused to fix her vehicle until now.
“Everyone always makes fun of me now because they’re like, ‘you still haven’t gotten your car fixed? And you still can’t get the CTA to pay for it?’” Zajac said.
Zajac was watching her daughters’ cheerleading practice in Hegewisch last September when a CTA bus made a tight turn near her parked car. She said the back end of the bus swung out and hit her car.
The damage included a scuffed-up door and dented fender. It would cost nearly $2,000 to fix everything, according to repair estimates.
Zajac reported the collision and filed an accident claim with the CTA. She said because there were a lot of witnesses, she believed the claim would be approved.
A few weeks later, however, the CTA denied her claim due to a lack of evidence.
“It’s like they’re trying to tell me I didn’t see what I saw,” Zajac said.
But the suburban Indiana mother received a second chance when she learned a neighbor’s security cameras captured video of the bus scraping against her GMC Acadia.
“It’s a game changer. It changes everything,” Zajac said.
Zajac and her husband said they did not send the video to the CTA due to the outcome of the earlier claim. But the couple said they figured NBC 5 Responds would have better luck getting through to the CTA. And after NBC 5 Responds emailed the video to the CTA, the agency re-opened the claim.
While a CTA spokesperson said each claimant is assigned a CTA representative with direct contact information, the agency confirms it is in the process of issuing a reimbursement check to Zajac’s insurance provider for the damage and will partially assist Zajac with a rental vehicle.
“CTA was provided with new evidence that supported the claim and, upon further investigation, prompted our decision to pay the claim,” said a CTA spokesperson.
Zajac and her husband, Colin, said NBC 5 Responds’ involvement is effectively covering their $500 insurance deductible and $100 toward a rental car.
NBC 5 Responds has learned via a Freedom of Information Act request there have been 1,058 reported collisions involving CTA buses and motor vehicles since 2012. Records show between 2012 and 2017 the CTA also paid $11,369,443 in settlements and judgments that involved accidents between CTA buses and other vehicles.
The CTA spokesperson said the agency takes all reported incidents seriously and its goal in all claims is to provide a timely and fair resolution based on evidence.
Allen Shoenberger of Loyola University Law School said Illinois has strict rules regarding filing claims against government agencies. But he said if agencies are given notice they can try to negotiate a settlement without having to go to court.
“The reason Illinois requires these notice requirements is to give the state or the local government entity the chance to investigate so they can find out did the accident occur?” Shoenberger said.
Consumers whose initial claims are denied can file lawsuits. However, Shoenberger said there is often a statute of limitations and he urges consumers to retain a lawyer.
“It’s not easy to litigate this as an individual trying to act on your own behalf,” Shoenberger said. “It’s possible, but not easy.”