Maria Mendez thought the state was doing a great thing when she was told the Department of Motor Vehicles would help her get money from the uninsured driver who hit her vehicle in December 1998.
DMV officials say it's a good law. Uninsured drivers are forced to get insurance and post a bond covering the estimated damages before they get their registration and license back.
But Mendez wasn't as thrilled when, more than a year later, she still didn't have the $2,400.
Carson City lawyer Pat Walsh took up her cause and, he says, ran into a frustrating bureaucracy.
"They told me she needed a judgment from the court," he said.
So he got a judgment of conviction showing the man was cited for speeding and at fault in the wreck. When he presented it at the DMV, Walsh said, he was told he needed a letter from the man agreeing to release the money.
"So I sent him a letter and he was a good guy and signed and returned it," said Walsh.
But when presented with the letter, the DMV told him they then needed a letter from Mendez saying that money would officially settle the case and her claim.
"So I got that," he said. "Then they keep my secretary waiting another hour before they say they have to send him their form to sign and that it'll be another eight weeks until they can release the money."
"You shouldn't need a lawyer to do this," he said. "It just strikes me as a classic example of a bureaucracy that makes up rules contrary to good sense and necessity."
Ginny Lewis, deputy director of the DMV, said Mendez should get her check some time next week, but that it's not uncommon for people to wait more than a year. And that's when the DMV can get money from the defendant. Lewis said 80 percent of those claimants never see a dime because the defendant disappears without paying.
She said, however, the DMV currently has more than $300,000 in the bank that will eventually go to the victims of uninsured drivers.
"Yeah, but do they get any interest?" said Walsh. "I doubt it."
Lewis said interest is up to the Legislature, not her, but the case shows her department needs to make a few changes.
She said she will make sure DMV workers who handle those issues know the rules and provide victims with the information they need to get their money as soon as possible.
"When somebody is caught in this, we should guide them through the process," she said, adding that she is looking into creating an instruction sheet to help victims of uninsured drivers get their compensation.
In the Mendez case, Lewis said the state didn't know where the defendant was until he tried to get a drivers' license in Texas.
She said the system worked and he had to send in $2,400 to cover Mendez's damages in June 1999.
After that, Lewis said, "There was some confusion." She said she doesn't see anything in the file indicating that Mendez asked for the money back or asked how to get it back. But when questioned as to how the average citizen would know what to do, she admitted most wouldn't, so the DMV should provide that information.
She also said it shouldn't have taken another nine months to release the money.
"There are a lot of time delays through the whole process and she wasn't sure of the steps, but at least we've got her money," Lewis said.
"And all it took was a lawyer and a reporter," noted Walsh. "It shouldn't be that way."