PITTSBURGH - If you hit a pot hole and it damages your car, what are your chances of getting reimbursed for the amount your insurance company doesn’t cover?
Because of the extreme weather conditions we’ve had lately, it seems that those pesky potholes are opening up everywhere.
Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle obtained five years’ worth of data from the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
Earle discovered that while your chances of getting paid for the damages aren’t great, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
Earle also discovered that for at least one driver, persistence paid off.
“I mean my windshield shook it was that hard of a hit, “ said Lynn Sullivan, who hit a pothole on Wagner Avenue last year.
It costs her $250 dollars for a new rim.
She filed a claim with Allegheny County but it was denied. The county claimed they didn’t know about it and under the law weren’t liable for any damages.
“This is absolutely ridiculous that they just do not have to take responsibility for these roads,” said Sullivan.
Target 11 crunched five years’ worth of data and discovered the county only paid one of out every four claims for a total of $15,000.
“We can only be found liable if we had actual notice or constructive notice and that wasn't the case here,” said Lee Dellecker, an attorney for Allegheny County.
The county tells Target 11 that they can only be held liable if they knew about the pothole and didn’t fix it in a timely matter.
The city has the same policy, and they consider 72 hours to be the guideline. Target 11 discovered that your chances of getting reimbursed if you hit a pot hole in the city are a little better.
In the past five years they city has paid one in every three claims for a total of $24,000 dollars.
Target 11 hit the streets for pothole patrol, even before the city’s pothole blitz program.
Earle found several huge potholes at the intersection of Beechwood and Beacon Streets in Squirrel Hill.
Earle then called the city’s 311 line to report the pothole, and four days later when Earle returned the potholes had been filed.
Mayor Bill Peduto told Target 11 that because of the harsh weather, there will be more potholes and more claims, and he’s told the law department to be ready.
“Our law department has been told to be prepared to be able to respond to directly to people and give them a fast response,” said Peduto.
Lynn Sullivan didn’t like the response she got from Allegheny County, so she took the county to court. She filed a small claims suit against the county in magistrate’s court.
Target 11 was there as Sullivan went to court to argue her case. Sullivan didn’t hire an attorney but presented her case to the judge, detailing what happened and how much she had to pay for the damages.
The attorney for the county argued that the county was not aware of the pothole and therefore under the law is not liable for the damages to Sullivan’s vehicle. A public works supervisor and a claims investigator both testified for the county.
The next day the Judge issued an order in Sullivan’s favor, awarding her court costs and damages. The county had the option to appeal the verdict but decided just to pay Sullivan. Sullivan was awarded damages and court costs.
Sullivan said she’s glad she won, and she said she hopes this prompts more people to stand up and fight.
“I would hope that people would come forward and filed these claims and force their hand to pay because they should pay,” said Sullivan.
We also discovered that not too many people take the case as far as Lynn Sullivan. In fact, the city told us that during that last five years only one driver took their case to court. And that driver lost.
If you do decide to take a municipality to court, and you lose, you will also be out the court cost of $80.00.
Here’s some additional information you may need when you’re dealing with damage from a pothole. Target 11 checked in with both PennDot and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Both agencies said they do not pay for pothole damage. Any claims would have to be filed through your own insurance company.
If you hit a pot hole, you should first report it. In the city you can call the 311 hotline. Below we have also included a link to a claim form you can file out and file with the city.