Walker noted that bad winter storms in 2008 and 2009 took a toll on state roadways and as a result, increased the number of claims filed against the agency. He said the division was receiving an average of one new claim per day at the time.
Because highway crews were tied up in snow removal and ice control operations, they also had even less time than usual to investigate claims.
"We had to just deny the claim, thus giving us additional time to either investigate the claim, settle or confess the judgment," Walker said. "Or, if we determined it to be fraudulent, we would proceed accordingly."
While officials disagreed with the 2010 report's conclusion that the division was denying cases to take advantage of people not showing for hearings, Walker said they did use it as a chance to review their procedures.
"We viewed it as an opportunity to get better, to review what we were doing and if possible, be more efficient," he said.
Officials began looking at claims as a whole and mapping out where they occurred. If some were grouped in known road damage areas and around the same time period, officials began grouping those cases together.
After a general investigation, division attorneys began drafting what are known as omnibus orders to process the claims as a whole.
Sylvia said in his latest report this new process has led to a significant reduction in the backlog.
"It is the Legislative Auditor's opinion that the DOH's procedural change in using Omnibus Orders has significantly reduced the burden to the public and the State," he said in the report.
Instead of denying 100 percent of the claims, the division now denies an average of 75 percent of claims.
Court of Claims clerk Cheryle Hall said in the report the court was pleased with the new process, though she noted it did cause the number of court claims paid in fiscal year 2011 to jump significantly.
"The process for omnibus orders ... alleviated the backlog of claims against the Division during the years prior to and including the 2010 calendar year," Hall said. "Therefore the 2011 claims bill had a total of 468 claims, more than the average of 150 in previous claims bills."
As a result, total claims paid hit $8.4 million in fiscal year 2011, compared to $3.8 million the year before.
The Division of Highways also has benefited from mild winters.
The 2012 fiscal year saw new claims fall to 342. Since July 1, only 78 claims have been awarded.
"All in all, the Court is satisfied that counsel for the Division of Highways is trying to be fair and reasonable to the claimants who file claims in our Court," Hall said.
To also help the process, auditors recommended in 2010 the Legislature consider establishing a new claims review procedure for claims totaling less than $2,500. Under this system, thee Court of Claims clerk would be determined whether to award these claims without the need for a hearing.
The Legislature has not acted on that recommendation.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.h...@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.