Pothole Damage – What Now?

roadAccording to the AA, the pothole problem on UK roads has become a “menace”, affecting around 6.5 million drivers annually, with drivers having to pay out nearly £700 for repairs to wheels, tyres, suspension, bodywork and exhaust systems.

So, let’s take a closer look at the pothole problem and how you can claim for damages.

We’re picking up the tab

Potholes! Bah! Humbug! They’re popping up more quickly than the springtime daffodils and are the bane of drivers throughout the UK. Car owners in the South East and London are collectively bearing the worst of the costs, having spent just over £100m and £91m respectively to repair poor road surfaces. Just over 30% of those who suffered pothole damage did so because the pothole they drove into was filled with water and looked just like a puddle. In some cases, more money is being spent on temporary road plates, than it costs to repair the potholes.

Local council underfunding

The cumulative effect of decades of underfunding are taking their toll. Wetter winters on poorly maintained roads are only exacerbating the problem. A transport spokesman at the Local Government Association, said recently: “It’s becoming increasingly urgent to address the roads crisis we face as a nation. Our roads are deteriorating fast and it would take almost £12 billion and be close to 2030 before we could bring them up to scratch and clear the current roads repair backlog. Councils fixed a pothole every 15 seconds last year, despite significant budget reductions leaving them with less to spend on fixing our crumbling roads.”

What should you do if you hit a pothole?

1. Report it as soon as possible

You should report the pothole to the local highways authority. If it was on an A road or a motorway, then Highways England is who to contact. If the pothole was on a minor road, then it’s the county, city or borough council that manages the roads in that area who you should report it to.

2. Take pictures

It’s a good idea to take a picture (or draw a sketch) of the pothole, as this will help the council to identify it. Make sure you show the pothole’s location relative to the kerb or the centre line of the road. Let the council know the precise location and include the name of the road, the town or village, the direction you were travelling, and the approximate size and depth of the pothole.

3. Get quotes

Ask a few garages to give you a quote to repair the damage, and make sure they inspect the car properly – there may be hidden damage, such as a broken suspension.

4. Submit a claim

Write to the relevant authority with copies of the quotes and explain exactly what happened in a calm and respectful manner. In all likelihood, they will reject your claim. They usually cite Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980, which permits the road authority to defend the claim on the basis that it took all reasonable steps to ensure the road was maintained, and that potholes were dealt with as quickly as possible.

In order to find out if the authority complied with the Act is to submit a Freedom of Information request to the authority, requesting the following:

1. Details of all inspections on that section of road in the two years before you hit the pothole
2. Details of how they inspected the road
3. Details of any road defects found during those inspections
4. The intended frequency of these inspections
5. The yardstick for repairing a pothole – that is to say, how large and/or deep must it be before it is fixed
6. How long between the first report of a pothole and its repair
7. Details of all complaints about the condition of the road surface on that section of road in the two previous years

When you’ve received all of this information, you can then decide if the authority was aware of the pothole and really did everything it could to prevent it from developing and getting worse. You should then compare and contrast the actions and policies of the authority with those recommended in the national code of practice for highway maintenance known as the Well-Maintained Highways code.

If you’re lucky, the authority will write back to you with a settlement offer to compensate you for the damage caused. This offer will either be in full or in part. However, they may still claim that they don’t consider themselves to be liable and may try to explain why they have valid reasons for the differences between the code of practice and their records. If you’re still not satisfied you can take your claim to the courts.