INDIANAPOLIS - Nine drivers have been successful so far this year in getting money from the city of Indianapolis for damage to their vehicles caused by potholes, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported.
Marion County's Office of Corporation Counsel has approved $3,341 in pothole tort claim settlements so far this year, records show.
"I'm very thankful," said Olivia Brewster, who received $1,035 for damage to her rims and tire after hitting a pothole on East 38th street. "This was a very big expense that came out of our pockets."
The Office of Corporation Counsel received more than 900 pothole tort claims between January 1 and May 9, according to a spreadsheet obtained by Kenney.
In all of 2013, the city received 156 pothole tort claims and paid a total of $3,553.
The city issued $468 in pothole tort claim settlements in 2012 after receiving 145 complaints.
In 2011, after a harsh winter for roads, the city received 1,247 pothole tort claims and paid out $152,848.
Indianapolis received 33 inches of snow in 2009-2010, 37.4 inches in 2010-2011, 9.8 inches in 2011-2012, 34.5 inches in 2012-2013 and 55.7 inches in 2013-2014.
Indianapolis' Pothole Struggle
Chief Litigation Counsel Beth Garrison said every winter is different, and the brutal winter of 2013-14 made it difficult for the city to fill potholes.
"There were a number of days where we couldn't physically put crews out to repair potholes," said Garrison. "Potholes can't be repaired when there's snow on the ground."
That's a key distinction, because to win your case, you have to prove the city was negligent by knowing about the pothole and failing to fix it within a reasonable amount of time.
"If it's a case where we have notice of the situation, it comes down to whether we have a reasonable opportunity to repair that pothole," said Garrison. "To a certain extent, it is a subjective analysis. We're not going to deny it if the address is half a block off, but certainly there are times when there are holes in an area where we truly didn't know about."
Indianapolis' Pothole Process
Indiana case law states that if a municipality is not on notice of a problem, it does not have an obligation to repair that problem, Garrison said, adding that budget cuts are not a factor in the tort claim approval process.
"They never told me, 'You have $10,000 to play with and so you can only award so many tort claims,'" said Garrison.
Garrison said there are four people working on processing pothole tort claims, among other duties.
"I can tell you I've looked at 300 already and I have 100 sitting on my floor right now," said Garrison. "I have to be careful because I'm dealing with taxpayer dollars."
Garrison said she's seen examples of fraud, as well as tort claims submitted with no evidence.
Spreadsheet: 2014 Pothole Tort Claims
To improve your chance of getting money for damage to your car, providing documentation, including invoices for the repairs, is crucial.
"The documentation of invoices paid is almost an absolute must," said Garrison.
The Call 6 Investigators spoke with several people who were successful in obtaining a settlement with the city, and all had documentation to support their cases.
Brad Meiser received a check for $246 after hitting a pothole on College Avenue, resulting in a blown tire and bent rim.
"I summarized what I had to pay and what happened," said Meiser. "I had a picture of my rim and the damage to it."
Meiser also used the Pothole Viewer to determine the city knew about the pothole he hit.
"I noted when it was reported when I submitted my claim and where it was and that it was the same pothole, and I think that might have helped, too," said Meiser.
Olivia Brewster had a secret weapon in making her case -- her mother Jane, who encouraged her to take pictures of the pothole and damage.
"I worked for an accounting firm for quite a while and detail, detail, detail is key if you're trying to prove anything," said Jane Brewster.
They submitted a picture of the pothole with a sandbag in it, invoices of the repairs as well as details on when and where it happened.
"Record everything and anything you can," said Olivia Brewster. "The city is not going to give you money if you do not have legitimate proof."
Indianapolis has 90 days to process your claim. If the claim is approved, you will receive settlement paperwork.
"I know I answered some last week that some people submitted in February," said Garrison. "I would ask that people be patient."
Indiana gives you 180 days after the loss to make the claim. Potholes can be reported to the Mayor's Action Center at 317-327-4622.
Only 5% of pothole claims approved since 2014
The City of Indianapolis has paid out 5% of pothole tort claims filed by drivers since January 1, 2014, records show.
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