The Law of Potholes
Dreaded potholes! They seem to be everywhere this year, so avoiding them all is nearly impossible. The result: lost hubcaps, bent rims, flat tires and even accidents and injuries. Given this epic pothole season, you may be wondering about the law of potholes; that is, who is legally responsible for paying for car damage or injuries caused by potholes?
It’s not surprising that this might be the worst pothole season ever because it has been a terrible winter. Potholes are created when water seeps into road cracks, freezes and expands, then melts and contracts, eventually causing a crater in the road. With the brutally cold temperatures and multiple snow and ice storms, it’s no mystery why we have all of these potholes.
In Pennsylvania, some roads are state roads maintained by PennDOT, others are local roads maintained by the local municipalities. To get potholes in line for repair, you can call PennDOT at 800-FIX-ROAD or reach out to the local township or borough to report your favorite pothole.
In addition to being extremely annoying, potholes can be dangerous. They result in millions of dollars of damage to vehicles and also cause vehicle accidents, injuries and even death.
As part of its Sovereign Immunity from legal claims in general, the state of Pennsylvania and its local municipalities are protected from most legal claims arising from pothole damages. This state is absolutely immune from any property damage claims such as damage to your vehicle caused by a pothole. If personal injuries result from a dangerous condition of the roadway like a pothole, the state can be held liable, but only if it had written notice of the pothole and a reasonable opportunity to fix it before the accident occurred. Local municipalities can be held liable for both property damage and personal injuries caused by potholes, but, again, only if they knew of or should have discovered the pothole and failed to repair it within a reasonable period of time.
With regard to claims for property damage to your car caused by potholes on state roads, you have no rights to seek compensation from PennDOT. If the roadway is owned by a local municipality, you may be able to be compensated if you can prove it had notice of the pothole and an opportunity to fix it before your incident. You can always make an insurance claim on your “Collision” car insurance coverage, but be mindful that your deductible applies and that it will count as a claim and may increase your insurance rates.
If you are injured in an accident caused by a pothole, you may have a legal claim against PennDOT or the municipality that owns the roadway. In order to prove your claim, you will need to be able to establish that there was notice of the pothole and enough time to repair it before your crash. Given the number of potholes caused by this harsh winter, PennDOT and municipalities are given a “reasonable time” to fix them. Determining whether a valid injury claim exists after a crash caused by a pothole requires investigation into the records of reported potholes and an analysis of whether an unreasonable amount of time passed between the time the pothole was reported and the time of the crash, such that the pothole should have been repaired.
Tim Rayne is a partner in the full-service law firm of MacElree Harvey, Ltd. which has 31 attorneys in offices located in Kennett Square and West Chester, PA and Centreville, DE. Tim focuses his law practice in Personal Injury and Civil Litigation law, primarily helping people who have been injured in accidents deal with insurance companies. Tim can be reached at 610.840.0124 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more News and Information on Personal Injury law, check out Tim’s website at www.timraynelaw.com.