Who Pays When Your Car Is Damaged By a Pothole?

It’s a minefield of potholes out there, but don’t expect your city to pay for the damage. Sure, road maintenance falls under the aegis of public infrastructure. Sure, there are numerous mechanisms in place allowing you to make a claim with the government. But the reality of the situation is that full payouts—the government covering the total cost of damage to your vehicle—are few and far between.

Cities and Municipalities Resist Responsibility for Pothole Damage

Car damage, fault and compensation are murky issues when dealing with a governmental body. Whether you’ve bent a rim in a pothole or been in a car accident with a government vehicle, you will be facing the juggernaut of governmental immunity if you try to recover your damages.

This past winter being one of the worst in years—with record amounts of snowfall throughout the country and repeated freeze/thaw cycles—the damage caused by potholes has reached an all-time high. But responsibility for car damage, fault and compensation is as nebulous as ever. Cities such as Chicago and Colorado Springs continue to reject pothole claims at rates in excess of 95%. Even Toronto, in a country that is far more liberal with the distribution of government funds, rejects claims at a rate near 100%.

Administrative Hoops Make Recovery Difficult At Best

The doctrine of sovereign immunity shields governments from civil liability for car accidents and other civil claims. While sovereign immunity is not an absolute defense, the administrative hoops citizens must jump through to file claims can be onerous. And even when a claim is filed, there is no guarantee that an investigation—or a payout—will ever occur. In the case of potholes and other road-related car accident damage, government bodies frequently try to shift the burden of car damage, fault and compensation to private contractors or drivers themselves. On the off chance a claim is paid, the settlement rarely covers the full amount of repairs, as governments claim that drivers themselves bear some responsibility for the damage.

To many drivers, it defies logic that governments won’t compensate citizens for car accidents caused by deteriorating roads. But in this era of penny pinching and budget shortfalls, car damage, fault and compensation can have disastrous effects on a government’s bottom line. It is a vicious circle to be sure, but the reality is that if you’ve sustained vehicle damage after hitting a pothole, your chances of recovery from the responsible party are slim at best.