Consumer Alert: Local fire departments billing crash victims
It was a rainy, October morning. Cranston resident Denyelle Lobo was heading to work when she hydroplaned along Interstate 95 in Pawtucket.
“My car crossed the highway and hit the right guardrail and then bounced off and hit the other guardrail,” said Lobo.
No other cars were involved, and Lobo wasn't injured, but a witness called 911.
She saif it wasn't long before police arrived, along with an ambulance, and a Pawtucket fire truck
“I denied needing medical treatment, so I signed saying, ‘No, I don't need treatment’ because I was OK, just a little shaken up,” said Lobo. “And then the firemen waited with me as the police left their sirens on to try to alert the other drivers to an accident while a tow truck came.”
Lobo said her insurance covered almost everything in the weeks following the crash. She thought she was all set.
“Until early January, I got a notice in the mail from a group called the Dawson Group saying that I owed the city of Pawtucket $550,” said Lobo.
Lobo said she was floored.
“It seems like firemen and police responding to an accident is something my city and state taxes would pay for,” she said.
Representatives from Pawtucket city government declined to talk to NBC 10 News on camera, but a spokesperson from the mayor's office says the Pawtucket Fire Department is billing Lobo for applying an oil absorbent called Speedy Dry to the highway after the crash. She said the city has been billing for this type of accident mitigation since 2010.
“She said that because I'm not a resident of Pawtucket, I need to pay, and it shouldn't be their responsibility -- residents of Pawtucket -- to pay for that accident,” said Lobo, recalling a conversation she had with a different representative from the City of Pawtucket.
Lobo argues that the accident occurred on Interstate 95, which is a highway that her state tax dollars fund.
“It's like double taxation,” said Lobo. “My tax paying dollars pay for what goes on on our state highways.”
In addition to being frustrated, Lobo said she’s worried this billing practice could have dangerous consequences.
“Heaven forbid something similar happens to you in the future, would you be hesitant to call 911 because of this?” asked NBC 10 Consumer Advocate Emily Volz.
“Yes, that's exactly what I would be now,” said Lobo.
The City of Pawtucket told NBC10 they're now waiving that $550 fee because Lobo submitted paperwork showing her insurance denied the claim.
Pawtucket isn't the only local municipality billing crash victims. A representative from the Dawson Group, a third-party billing company in East Providence, told NBC10 they work with quite a few local cities and towns, in addition to Pawtucket, although they wouldn't identify any other specific municipalities.