Potholes are almost a plague in Cleveland, thanks in part to our famous winter weather. When you are driving along and unexpectedly hit a pothole, it can blow out your tire, bend your wheel, play havoc with your suspension, scrape up your car body, and rip holes in your exhaust pipe. Yikes!
And those are just the most common vehicle damages. If the pothole is deep, you can lose control of your car — or worse, your motorcycle — and be flung into the path of another vehicle or spin into a light pole or tree. If you try to gain control of your car by jerking the wheel, you may fall victim to the deadliest kind of motor vehicle collision: a rollover.
But can you be compensated by the government for a collision or damage to your vehicle involving a pothole? Let’s find out.
Cleveland Pothole Problems
American drivers pay about $3 billion each year to fix damages caused by potholes. Every year, hundreds of people in Cleveland damage their cars due to potholes, and some even suffer significant personal injury. Though it’s possible for potholes to develop in gentler climates, our potholes are often caused when water freezes in the ground and expands as it becomes ice, then contracts when it thaws.
When this happens repeatedly, small cracks can easily become big potholes if they are not repaired. The City of Cleveland can’t keep up even with 10 pothole crews.
If you are aware of a significant pothole, you should report it to (216) 664-2510. Once a pothole is reported, the City has potential liability for future damage and therefore is more likely to repair it.
While Plevin & Gallucci does not handle claims from property damage due to potholes, from time to time, our firm sees personal injury cases that were caused by a driver trying to avoid a pothole or whose car redirected as a result of a pothole. We can handle those personal injury claims.
Can I be compensated for pothole damage in Cleveland or on other Ohio roads?
Theoretically, you can be compensated for property damages by the City of Cleveland or the State of Ohio depending where the incident occurred. But in reality, it’s quite difficult.
It is the government’s job to maintain roads, but that does not necessarily mean you will prevail if your car falls into a pothole. Still, you may be able to make a claim with a government entity or take them to court. In any case, you must be able to show the following to have any hope of compensation:
- You must know what government entity is responsible for maintaining the road and address that entity. It could be the city, the county or the State of Ohio.
- You must show the government was negligent, that is, they knew about the pothole and had ample time to fix it after acquiring that knowledge.
- You must show the government’s negligence caused the damage.
- Under Ohio’s comparative negligence doctrine, you cannot recover damages for the percentage you are at fault. For example, if you were drinking and driving and ended up in a pothole, your compensation can be reduced by the percentage the incident was your fault.
How to Pursue Compensation for Cleveland Pothole Damages
If you suffer property damage due to a pothole in Cleveland, you can file a claim for compensation with the City. But don’t hold your breath. Cleveland doesn’t pay 81% of the claims made, usually asserting it had “no knowledge” of the pothole, even potholes that had been reported repeatedly. Sometimes, the City does not pay because it says the road in question is a county or state road. When the City of Cleveland does pay, it often pays much less than the damage amount claimed.
Should you decide to make a vehicle damage claim, send the below information to The City of Cleveland Department of Law, Claims Section, Attention: R. Smith, 601 Lakeside Ave., Room 106, Cleveland OH 44144-1077. If you would like to speak to someone, the office is open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. during the week: 216-664-2800. You also can submit your claim electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions should include:
- Completed claim form;
- Copy of the vehicle title;
- Insurance information, including your deductible and a copy of the declaration page;
- Two estimates of repair costs or an itemized bill;
- Police or incident report if there is one;
- Copies of medical reports, including doctor and hospital bills and pharmacy receipts if there is a claim for personal injury;
- If you have them, witness statements, photographs of vehicle damages, the pothole and anything else that is relevant (such as the bent light pole your car was thrown against when you hit the pothole).
The City of Cleveland website is keen to point out that the City is not responsible for damages caused by a pothole it “did not know about… and have a chance to fix… before the damage occurred.”
If you have minor damage, it can’t hurt to submit a claim to the City of Cleveland. However, if you have suffered severe personal injuries, you would be wise to immediately consult a lawyer.
How to Pursue Compensation for State of Ohio Pothole Damages
According to the law, claims against the State of Ohio for money damages can only be heard in the Court of Claims, which was created so people could pursue legal claims against the State or state employees guilty of wrongful conduct.
If your claim is less than $10,000, you can submit a claim form and a $25 filing fee. You can represent yourself or get an attorney. If your claim is higher than $10,000, you may still use the form, but you would be wise to hire an attorney.
To complete the form, you will at least need to indicate the nature of the claim, when it occurred, the monetary amount of the damage, and why you think the State of Ohio is responsible. You can find instructions for the claim form here. You may file in person, by eFile, or mail your claim and accompanying documents to Ohio Court of Claims, The Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, 65 S. Front St., Third Floor, Columbus, OH 43215.
If you lose a claim of $10,000 or less, you may file a Motion for Court Review of the Clerk’s decision within 30 days of the date of that decision. If you lose a claim over $10,000, you may appeal the decision to the Tenth District Court of Appeals.
Determine if You Need to Consult an Attorney
Whenever you have wrongfully suffered severe personal injuries due to the negligence or wrongdoing of another, you should consult with a qualified Cleveland attorney like Plevin & Gallucci to protect your rights. Damages caused by the government are no different. For most pothole incidents, insurance will cover a lot of the property damage. But if you were injured, you would be very wise to talk to a lawyer. Remember: After the statute of limitations runs out, you lose all rights to file a suit, so act quickly.
For a free personal injury case evaluation, contact Plevin & Gallucci today.