Is the government liable for pothole damage? This is a common question many drivers ask, but the answer is not too clear-cut.
Vehicle damage can stem from several causes. Drivers sometimes drive under the influence, make poor traffic choices, or are just generally careless. But, in some vehicle damage cases, drivers are not at fault.
Poor road conditions are one common cause of vehicle damage that is out of drivers’ control. More often than not, this manifests itself in the form of potholes.
Potholes are gaping holes in the ground. They can arise from many causes, including erosion, poor water drainage, weak asphalt, harsh weather conditions, and heavy traffic. When left untreated, potholes can grow and even start multiplying. They can cause pedestrians to trip and injure themselves and are unattractive overall.
Beyond that, potholes are a common cause of vehicle damage. Believe it or not, it is also a costly cause of vehicle damage. In fact, potholes have caused $26.5 billion in vehicle repairs in 2021 alone. Because it is so expensive, drivers often look for someone to blame and foot the repair bill.
Drivers might ask, “Who is responsible for pothole damage to my car?” Is it the government, or are drivers left to their own devices?
Potholes are more prevalent in roads that state, city, and county governments maintain. If your car suffers damage due to a pothole in a government-controlled road, it is possible to file a claim against the government to reimburse you for the cost of repairs.
Can I sue the city for pothole damage? While some drivers might immediately jump to legal action, it is not always the best first choice. Many governments provide drivers with a way to report potholes and file claims. Lawsuits also tend to cost a lot of money, and there is no guarantee that you will win the case anyway.
Instead of suing, try filing a claim first. Of course, the government does not just give out freebies to anyone who files a claim with them. You will likely need to win your claim by proving your side. To do this, you must demonstrate that the government failed to maintain the road safely and reasonably.
There are two ways governments use to identify poor road conditions. The first way is through the regular inspection of roads and pavements. The second way is through reports filed by individuals.
It is not enough to simply file a claim. You must prove that the government was at fault that your vehicle got damaged by the pothole. This means you must prove that the government was negligent.
To do this, you must demonstrate two things. First, you must prove that the government was either aware of the pothole or reasonably knew about it. For example, you might gather evidence of complaints about potholes that were submitted to the government. You might find newspaper clippings of reports concerning the pothole.
Second, you must prove that the government failed to repair the pothole within a reasonable period of time. You have a good claim if the government knew about the pothole and left it in disrepair.
Most people just want to know how to get reimbursed for pothole damage. But, it is not as simple as walking into the office of the Department of Transportation and demanding a payout. You must go through the proper channels and present the proper documentation.
Information is key in any type of claim. Some of the details you must gather and present include:
Play to the strength of images. If possible, accompany your claim with photos of the pothole and the damage to your vehicle.
After gathering information, you must determine which government agency to file a claim with. State governments are usually in charge of maintaining highways. Meanwhile, city and county governments are typically responsible for maintaining local roads and pavements. Finally, the federal government maintains all federal highways and interstates.
Sometimes, you can’t be sure which government agency is responsible for the road. In that case, you can file the claim with all the government agencies you think could be in charge of it.
Whether it’s a pothole wheel damage claim or another pothole-related claim, you must prove the government’s negligence to win and receive compensation. This is not always an easy task. Government agencies don’t usually readily admit when they are at fault.
Fortunately, there are a couple of methods at your disposal to help you prove that the government knew about the pothole yet did not take action to repair it.
First, look at official police reports and complaints. As previously mentioned, if the pothole has existed for a long time, there is bound to be an equally long list of complaints from drivers. Look for complaints that were filed with the government or the local police. Police report that show accidents in the area can also help.
Second, search for news articles. Potholes rarely make for sensational news stories. But, if a pothole has existed for long enough and is a source of frustration for many residents, a local news outlet may have done a report on it.
Finally, request survey records. The government typically performs surveys of the roads they maintain. This is a way for them to identify poor road conditions, such as potholes. These records will show whether or not the government had prior knowledge of the pothole that led to your vehicle damage.
Many vehicles suffer damage due to poor road conditions, such as potholes. But, determining who is liable for pothole damage is only the first step. You will also need to prove that you have a right to compensation. Because this is not always easy to do, you might consider hiring a lawyer for assistance.