The long winter has taken its toll on roadway surfaces with many motorists encountering large potholes capable of significantly damaging tires, rims, ball joints, struts, exhaust systems and more. The Philadelphia Inquirer cited a report from AAA that annual damage from potholes in the U.S. is an astounding $3 billion.
Ryan Slicker was driving recently when he approached a deep pothole. Slicker was forced to drive through the crater because he was pinned on both sides between traffic and the curb. After his 2011 Subaru incurred $900 in damage he called 1-800-FIX-ROAD to report the incident to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). He was told that a representative would be in contact with him but he didn’t get a response.
Drivers are unlikely to receive any reimbursement in these cases because state and local laws generally shield municipalities from liability. Troy Thompson, of the Bureau of Risk & Insurance Management, says that the state does not compensate for property damage caused by potholes along the roads that they own or maintain. A state law gives motorists the right to file a claim; however, it bars reimbursement associated with “potholes, sinkholes, and conditions created by the natural elements”. It is possible under certain circumstances that they will pay for damages of bodily injury. In 2017, the state received an estimated 220 claims—none received any compensation.
Some cases that result in bodily injury may occur from motorists involved in a collision resulting from swerving to avoid a pothole. In cases of bodily injury, the state may compensate motorists if the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk for injury that the state agency was made aware of in a reasonable amount of time before the accident occurred. It must be proven that the agency should have remedied the dangerous condition. Greg McCloskey, Public Works Director with Westmoreland County, says they also do not pay pothole-related claims and encourage drivers to see if their insurance has applicable coverage.
In Pittsburgh, the city will potentially pay for damage caused by potholes. Roughly 5,000 incidents were reported so far this year. Margaret Vitale, who reviews such claims, says that the city must have received prior notification of the existence of the pothole and failed to repair it within roughly a five-day period. The city may pay the deductible for the motorist’s collision insurance or the estimated market value of the necessary repairs. In 2017, they reported paying out $4,761 for these types of damages.
The majority of municipalities rely on the Political Subdivision Torts Claim Act that protects them from such claims. Timothy Little from Monroeville explains that claims must be viewed according to whether the agency was truly negligent. He says that as long as the condition is repaired within a few days there is no liability. He further explained that if a large pothole existed for two weeks, then the basis for a claim may exist.
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