Pothole claims: Most drivers don't get paid

Drivers left in the cold in pothole claims process

By Tony Statz - Producer

It's no secret it's been a miserable, perilous pothole season in metro Detroit.

You may have heard you can file a claim with the local government to try to get reimbursed for damage to your car. However, do most drivers ever get paid? Ruth to the Rescue recently looked into how many claims are paid by five agencies.

First, we have the story of John Sellars of Canton Township. This stay-at-home dad recently became a pothole victim. He was driving on Whittiker Road in Washtenaw County, trying to enter I-94.

"I was just driving down the road, hit the pothole, and got a flat," he told Local 4 on Feb. 19.

What are the odds? Pothole coincidence!

In a Made-for-TV coincident, Sellars' car hit the same pothole pointed out to Local 4 by Beverly Buck of Ypsilanti. She said she hit the same pothole on Jan. 11, reported it to police, and later filed her own claim for damages to her car. Sellars got a flat tire on Feb. 19.

"They really need to start working on the roads here," he said.

Here's why those dates are so interesting. State law protects government agencies from any liability for pothole damage to your car, unless they knew about that specific pothole for 30 days prior and took no action to make repairs. As you can imagine, it's a pretty tall order for any consumer to prove specific pothole existed for 30 days before that hole damaged their car.

While Buck's claim was denied, it seemed Sellar's claim should have stood some chance of success. The pothole was reported January 11th,he hit the pothole Feb 19. more than 30 days later. His flat tire was even featured on a report on Local 4.

How could he be denied? He was! "They have it rigged in such a way that they don't have to pay anything," said John Sellars of Canton after he received his rejection notice.

Ruth to the Rescue looks for answers

Local 4 Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer went to the Washtenaw County Road Commission to find out why Sellars' claim was denied. The answer in a moment. First, look at the numbers from four local agencies.

MDOT hasn't tracked the total number of claims it has received in recent years. The agency did tell Ruth to the Rescue it paid just 2 claims in 2011, 0 claims in 2012, and 4 claims in 2013. A spokesman for MDOT says through April 9th of this year, it's received 351 and 3 have been paid.

*Wayne County has paid ZERO claims in the last three years.
*Macomb County has paid ZERO claims in the last three years.
*Washtenaw County has paid 4 claims between 2012 and 2014 (so far)
*Oakland County says it pays about 10% of its claims (1,000 claims from 2008 to 2013, which 140 paid)

"We're just trying to be as fair and accommodating to all the citizens that we serve," Craig Bryson of the Oakland County Road Commission told Ruth to the Rescue.

Why was John Sellars denied?

So, why was John Sellars claim denied for the damage he sustained in Washtenaw County? Local 4's Ruth Spencer met with Roy Townsend, the Managing Director of the Washtenaw County Road Commission.

"We've had to fill the same pothole more than once cause of freezing and thawing and winter continuing. So, that sort of like started the clock again... that's why his claim was denied," Townsend told Ruth to the Rescue.

If the 30 day clock for Sellars' damage didn't start on Jan. 11, when did it start? Townsend said he couldn't provide documentation that specific pothole had been filled.

However, he also said there may have been more than one pothole along the road where both Beverly Buck and John Sellars damaged their cars. Further, Townsend said road work was done in that general area. Ruth to the Rescue asked to see a work order or some other documentation for that road work.

In the end, Townsend sent an email to Ruth to the Rescue saying in part, "Mr. Sellars claim has now been approved for payment after further review of the facts." Sellars became one of the very few people to have his claim approved.

Townsend admitted the state law does not favor consumers, "Or the liability is set up to protect the road commissioners is another way to look at it," he said.

Pothole assistance

During the course of this investigation, Wayne County forwarded some very important information for drivers who'd like to report potholes.

Deputy Chief Operating Officer Cindy Nocerini Dingell says there are two ways to report any road hazards 24 hours a day. The first is to call 888-ROAD CREW (1-888-762-3273).

The second is to use the Compass system www.waynecountycompass.com (go to the lower right hand corner and click on the road hazard icon, it will go directly to a reporting menu).

Compass can be downloaded to Smart Phone devices too; however, we advise folks to pull over to report any hazard.

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