Pothole Damage Claims Rarely Succeed

Pothole Damage Claims Rarely Succeed (Image 1)

After a long career in state and local government, Mike Rankin knows his way around public bureaucracies. 

But he’s been unable to navigate through a claim against the City of Columbus for car damage from a pothole he hit on Sawmill Road in March.

Rankin says the pothole had been there for several weeks. 

“I hit it and immediately knew I blew that tire,” Rankin said.

His claim against the city for $355 was denied. In a letter to Rankin, a claims investigator with the Department of Public Service wrote that “the party claiming damage must prove that either the City had actual or constructive notice of the pothole and failed to respond in a reasonable amount of time, or responded in a negligent manner or that the City, in a general sense, maintains its roadways negligently. 

“Based on the calls and records of the 311 call center, all service requests for the pothole located near the intersection of Sawmill Rd and Summer Dr., specifically pothole repair WO#15-007494, was closed due to repairs made within a reasonable time.”

The city says it’s following state law. But Rankin argues that given the heavy volume of traffic on Sawmill Road, including all kinds of city vehicles carrying city employees who were sure to notice the pothole, the city had to have had “constructive” notice.

Rankin says the pothole had been there for weeks and even if no other motorists had called the 311 call center, the city still should have known.

“You have snow plows, you have street repair folks, you have city police and fire that go by there and I can’t imagine that somebody didn’t report that hole,” Rankin says.

But denying claims of pothole damage is something the city is good at. Hundreds of claims have been filed since January 1, 2013 but only one claim, for about $232, has been paid.

The city tells Rankin that if he wants to pursue additional information he’ll have to file public records requests with six different city departments.

“I don’t pay my taxes to six different city agencies,” he said. “I think that’s just unreasonable, number one–and secondly it’s just bad customer service.”

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