INDIANAPOLIS -- Call 6 Investigates has uncovered that even if the city knows about a pesky pothole and fails to fix it before you hit it, that does not necessarily mean you will win a damage claim.
In fact, it can be downright difficult to get money, even if you submit all the required documentation.
Lori, a Zionsville resident, was driving on I-465 on February 10, when she started to exit south toward 86th Street.
“That’s when I heard the awful noise,” said Lori. “It scared me.”
Lori pulled over and found a pothole had damaged both her wheel and tire, resulting in more than $1,000 in repairs.
She did some research on how to get reimbursed by the City of Indianapolis.
Lori took pictures of the damage to her car as well as the pothole, saved her invoices, and even used the city’s pothole viewer to find at least nine other drivers had complained about that pothole and others in that same intersection.
“They knew about it,” said Lori.
Months later, in mid-April, she received a denial letter, saying the city was not negligent in the matter.
“The city may have received notice, but they did not have a sufficient amount of time to repair the defect,” read the letter.
According to Indiana law, the city is responsible for the damage only if the city knew about the pothole, and had a reasonable time to fix it before the incident.
“I take issue with that,” said Lori. “I followed their instructions to a ‘T,' and I provided everything they asked for and more, including temperature graphs,” said Lori. “There was just no excuse with the mild winter we had and the time frame that this happened.”
Call 6 Investigates checked the city’s pothole viewer in May and found the city’s closed out nearly two dozen complaints about the pothole Lori hit and others nearby.
“It is heavily traveled, heavily reported, and heavily visited by their crew, and that’s just inexcusable,” said Lori.
The Indianapolis Department of Public Works said their crews can fill the same potholes over and over again.
“If multiple requests to fill this pothole were made in a day, week, or month and each of those requests was closed, that means our crews responded and filled the pothole multiple times,” said Warren Stokes, DPW spokesperson. “It is not out of the ordinary for a pothole to be filled multiple times in a year due to pothole patching being a temporary repair. Since potholes form from the stress of traffic causing cracks in the pavements along with fluctuating temperatures, we often make return trips to fill potholes on busy streets similar to 86th Street.”
Call 6 Investigates also reached out to the city’s Office of Corporation Counsel; the agency tasked with approving or rejecting pothole claims.
Andy Mallon of the Office of Corporation Counsel declined to talk about Lori’s case because it could still be litigated.
But Mallon said in cases where repair crews repeatedly fix a problem pothole, the city considers each case separately, and crews are given adequate opportunity to fix the pothole.
Mallon sent Call 6 Investigates a look at how they process pothole claims:
1. Claim: The City receives a pothole tort claim.
2. Investigation: An investigator is assigned to investigate the claim.
3. Denial: If the City did not have notice of the pothole as well as a reasonable opportunity to repair it, then the claim gets denied.
a. What amounts to a reasonable opportunity to repair varies based on numerous factors evaluated on a case-by-case basis, such as the number of pending service requests at the time, weather conditions for repair work, the availability of repair materials, etc. Each case is necessarily different.
b. In cases where a repair has been made (i.e. a pothole filled) in an area, subsequent problems in the same area often are and must be treated separately from prior problems (which had been repaired) with separate reasonable notice and opportunity to repair requirements for the subsequent problem.
4. Approval: If we had notice of the pothole but were not able to get it repaired in a reasonable amount of time, we will approve the claim as long as the claimant is able to substantiate costs of repair.
a. If the claimant provides no documentation regarding repair costs, our investigators will seek that information from them. Typically a receipt for repairs completed or an estimate of repair costs (assuming the estimate is a reasonable one) will suffice.
As for Lori, she does not plan to file a lawsuit in small claims court, because she thinks it will be a waste of money.
“I believe they’ve designed their clauses in a way that allows them to not be culpable for the performance they’re doing on the roads,” said Lori. “This was a preventable incident, and I do feel that ownership can be taken and I should be able to recoup my money.”
Lori is out the $1,000 she paid to fix her car, plus 40 hours of time she spent putting together her claim.
She wants other drivers to know their efforts may not pay off, no matter how much they believe they’ve proven their case.
"I wouldn't expect them to get their hopes up. "
Call 6 Investigates found the city denies most pothole claims or approximately 95 percent of claims made.