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You’ve Just Hit a Pothole

You’re driving along, enjoying the autumn weather when out of nowhere there’s a massive pothole in the road and no way to avoid it. You hit it, destroy your suspension, ruin your tire, pull over to the side of the road. What do you do next?

You probably hit the steering wheel in frustration, call your car insurance, and then do a little math to see just how much you can afford to put into fixing a car you weren’t expecting to have to fix.

After all, you have to have your car, but there’s a feeling of injustice that you should have to fix it when it’s someone else’s fault it’s broken. Just like in hit and run accidents that damage your car, it doesn’t feel right that a pothole the local government hasn’t gotten around to fixing is the cause but you’re on the hook to pay.

Or are you?

In theory, at least, you can file a claim with the local city council and ask to be repaid for the damages incurred. This is theory not because filing a claim is difficult but because getting repaid is. According to Time magazine, local governments rarely pay up, and when they do, it is only a small portion of the total expense. Chicago, as referenced in the article, often only pays a portion because it feels that hitting a pothole is at least partly the fault of the driver. That may or may not be true in every instance, but that is the perspective of city councils around the country: it’s your fault, good luck getting us to help you out.

Many places are even harder on drivers. Colorado Springs rejects 98% of the claims it receives because of its strict standards. Those standards include requiring someone notifying the city of the pothole and then two weeks passing to give the city time to repair it. Since the likelihood of both standards being met is slim, there’s almost no point in submitting a claim there.

Even for those who do get reimbursed, it can take a long time to get the money. Chicago Magazine claims it takes that city about 18 months from the time of the accident to get a check in the mail.

Of course, there are more aggressive tactics that can be explored. Hiring a lawyer who works with road defects, like the lawyers of Crowe & Mulvey, LLP, may force the hand of a town or city, but how often do potholes do enough damage to be worth the time and money of a lawyer? Again, quite rarely.

So, it seems, no matter where your car ran into that pothole, north, south, east or west in this country, the best thing is probably just to bang on the steering wheel and fix what you can when you can. Though you might think the government has more responsibility to help you out in such situations, this is not the case.