"Mad as hell": Garbage trucks damage homeowners property

5 On Your Side's PJ Randhawa has been covering the problem for months, and now finds how some of these angry citizens are taking action.

They're homeowners and they're angry.

ST. LOUIS - Orange, green or blue — there are more than 60 city garbage trucks on the streets of St. Louis on any given day.

But as 5 On Your Side found, some of those trucks are leaving damage and debris in their wake. And getting the city to pay for that damage can be an uphill battle, according to homeowners who contacted 5 On Your Side.

Their claim: trash trucks took their garbage and they left behind damage. Often to their homes, cars and yards.

5 On Your Side's PJ Randhawa has been covering the problem for months, and now finds how some of these angry citizens are taking action.

"I want them to fix this. I think they should," said Linda, who asked us to only use her first name,

Linda, who lives in ward 2, claims with each pick up, City of St. Louis refuse trucks set her dumpster closer and closer to her concrete planter. Until one day…the planter was destroyed.

"It had to be something extremely heavy that hit it from the top. There’s no other way anything else could break this," she said.

And now? She wants the city to "step up"

"They know they’re responsible, they know they did it. There’s no other way that could’ve happened," she said.

And Linda is not alone.

In 2016, there were more than 320 reports of damage — all allegedly caused by St. Louis garbage trucks. But the majority of those claims, roughly 78 percent,  were denied by the city — which as it turns out, self-insures.

Joe Miklovic even had a surveillance video to back up his claim of damage to his garage and siding. But his claim? Denied.

"I'm asking the city to own up, man up to what damage was incurred," said Miklovich.

The Goodson family from the Central West End was also unable to reach an agreement with the city, regarding more than $15,000 in damage they claim was done to their back wall.

"Why should our insurance company have to pay for something the city clearly did," said Donna Goodson.

As for Linda's claim?

"They said they just can't take my word for it," said Linda.

But during our interview, guess who showed up? The city garbage truck. So we asked the driver about her broken planter, but he denied knowing anything about it.
And who else wasn't saying much?

The city attorney's office helps investigate and negotiate damage claims. They declined to speak with us, but we did get answers from the city's operation's director.

"Most of them are knocking down a gutter on the side of a garage," said Todd Waelterman, executive director for operations with the city.

Waelterman acknowledged accidents happen.

"You can see where you'll tear down a cable wire, to the point where you can knock a garage over," said Waelterman.

And he admitted, part of the problem is that half of the city's trucks are ready for the scrap yard.

"We have about 30 trucks that are 2000 model," said Waelterman. "They're basically beyond their useful life. Our refuse trucks are very old. Everything is loose on these old trucks."

So, he said the trucks don't stay stationary when lifting up dumpsters. 

"The nickname is dumpster creep. You put the dumpster here and the next day it's two inches down, and it's four inches down. A new truck probably won't do that," said Waelterman.

So why do so many claims go unpaid? The issue, Waelterman said, is a lack of evidence.

"The other tax payers would not just want us just writing checks out, OK? Our attorneys, they get no reward paying less or more out. They're trying to do their job and they're accountable to the tax payer and they can't just give money away," said Waelterman.

Data from the city shows from 2015 to 2016, the number of damage claims involving refuse trucks actually went up. But the amount of money the city paid to fix the damage they caused decreased by roughly $26,000.

Homeowners who individually contacted 5 On Your Side about refuse truck damage eventually met a local restaurant recently.

"I took pictures of the driver standing over the wreckage…and they're still not paying," said Jane Hogan, who saw a refuse truck drop a dumpster onto her fence.

They're now banding together to pursue legal action — possibly a class action lawsuit — against the city of St Louis

"The people who pay them are being told by the city 'We are just going to delay, delay, delay and don't pay,'" Hogan said. "We are tired of it. We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore."

The St. Louis Board of Alderman is considering garbage truck replacement with a $2 monthly increase in city garbage fees.

What to do if your property has been damaged

If your property is damaged by a city vehicle, make sure to immediately document the damage (with pictures or video if possible), date/time and any identifying information on the refuse truck.

You're required to report the damage through the CItizen's Service Bureau at (314) 622-4800.

The city often requests that a homeowner obtain two repair estimates for the damage. According to the city, cases are usually resolved one way or another within four weeks.

You can also see if any accidents may have happened in your neighborhood with an interactive map.

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