Dancing With Potholes: Filing A Claim In New York

On his way home from work, 51 year-old Jim Craig of North Westchester County, New York, lost an impromptu battle with a pothole. His 2010 Ford Taurus sustained close to $700 in damages, which included the cost of replacing his right front tire and rim.

“I was driving home late from work on the Taconic Parkway when I heard and felt a crashing metallic bang that resonated through the whole car. My steering wheel jolted from side to side in my hand, while at the same time I heard loud a rush of air. I knew that I had hit a pothole.”

Fortunately, Craig was not around any other automobiles as his car swerved momentarily out of its lane. Though startled, he maintained control of his vehicle successfully and navigated to the side of the road without further incident.

Being just after midnight it was dark, but he could see that his tire was completely off the rim and his wheel was bent.

Craig tried walking the side of the road to see if he could find the monster that just took a bite out his car; he figured that an insurance claim for the damage would be in order. Because of this, he thought maybe it would be a good idea to find the hole to take a picture of it with his phone.

However, the combination of darkness and the potential of being hit by speeding vehicle was not something he wanted to chance. He would have to go onto the dark parkway to try and find the exact spot, let alone take a picture.

“It was not worth it. I just got out my spare and changed the tire. I already escaped from getting hurt once that night, no sense in chancing it again.”

Craig called his insurance company that next morning and was told to get an estimate for the damage. Unfortunately because he carried a $1,000 deductible and his damage was less than that amount, it would have to come out of his pocket to fix the car.

He did think that maybe it would be possible to file a claim with the state and pursue reimbursement for the damage. But when he looked into the process of how to file one with the New York Department of Transportation (NYDOT), he decided that his chances would be slim to none for actually receiving compensation.

“The process seemed too convoluted and a big hassle for me to endure.”

That “process” Craig refers to is outlined by the Huntington, New York based Schlitt Law Firm headed by Carol L. Schlitt, New York Personal Injury Lawyer. The law firm says that receiving compensation for damage because of a pothole can be difficult, but not impossible.

You would first need to know what municipality is responsible for the road and then find out if the hole had been reported in (prior notice). There needs to have been enough time given for the municipality to have the pothole repaired according to the Schllit Firm.

“In New York City, that means at least fifteen days. For the rest of the state, it means that there must be reasonable time given…which could be as little as three days for some municipalities…but there is no real standard for this,” says leading attorney Carol L. Schlitt.

Finally, you would have to provide evidence that it was the pothole that caused the damage and proof of the cost of repair.

In addition, just because you can meet the basic requirements for making a claim, there is no guarantee that you will be compensated. New York State passed a law that relieves itself from liability of damages from Nov. 15 thru May 15 due to weather effects on the road the Schlitt Firm reports.

The firm recommends that in the event you would like to pursue compensation for damages, there are a few key steps to take. First, ensure to identify who owns the road in regards to the municipality it falls under. Next, collect the evidence about the pothole and its exact location. Ensure that you have evidence that supports that it caused your damage. You will then need to file a claim with the municipality that is responsible for the pothole location at either a Town Attorney, Town Clerk’s office or equivalent.

For example if the incident happened in New York City, you can file the claim online with the New York City Comptroller’s office.

You have ninety days to file a claim from the date it happened but the Schlitt firm recommends the sooner the better.

It is also recommended that you make a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request regarding if prior notice had been filed about the pothole responsible for your damage.

After you have filed a claim, you should be contacted by a representative of the municipality to try and resolve your claim. This person may ask for information regarding the specifics of your claim such as your repair cost and what evidence that you have proving the pothole caused your damage.

The municipality may refuse to pay your claim or not offer enough to cover your repair expenses. At this point, you may decide to take the matter to Small Claims Court. The Schlitt Firm recommends that you have at least two estimates for your damage when you appear.

As for Jim Craig, he has words of wisdom for New York State drivers.

“Be extra aware, those potholes are hungry for your car and your cash!”

For assistance with determining if and how you can make a pothole damage claim in the state of New York, contact the Schlitt Law Firm at (800) 660-1466.

To report a pothole, contact NYDOT at (800) POT-HOLE.