Pothole damage to your car
What do you do if your car is damaged by a pothole? Is there any way of claiming back the costs of repairing your car?
The short answer is 'maybe' – you can certainly submit a claim to the Council that is responsible for the highways in the area where you hit the pothole, and see whether you can claim compensation.
Gathering background information and evidence
As soon as you hit the pothole, stop and take down exact location details, photographs, and measurements. As you're unlikely to have a ruler in your car boot, you can measure and mark it on another object and then measure this later when you get home. Make sure your photos also take in some of your surroundings - if the pothole is in an awkward spot, such as just after a corner or after the brow of a hill, it might strengthen your claim.
Note down or photograph features nearby – including the road's speed limit, width, traffic volume and so on. It may seem like overkill, but it's essential that you don't lack the details to support your claim.
Contact the Council
Contact the relevant Council that is responsible for the roads in the area where you hit the pothole and:
- Report the pothole. Acting as a good citizen by helping to protect fellow motorists from suffering the same fate as you will certainly not harm your case!
- As recommended by potholes.co.uk, ask the Council to send you the following documents:
- Dates of safety inspections carried out on the carriageway in the two years before your incident.
- Details of carriageway defects identified during the safety inspections undertaken in the two years before your incident.
- Details of how carriageway safety inspections are undertaken, including whether they were walked or driven, the speed of the inspection vehicle, and the number of people on board the vehicle.
- The intended frequency of carriageway safety inspections.
- Details of all complaints and/or enquiries relating to the carriageway, received in the two years preceding your incident.
- The hierarchy classification.
- The road/section number.
- The defect intervention criteria adopted in relation to the identification of all categories of carriageway potholes (in other words, this means how they define a pothole as requiring attention)
- The time period(s) adopted between identification and repair (temporary and permanent) of all categories of carriageway defects.
- Whether or not the authority has formally adopted all or part of the standards contained within the national code of practice for highways maintenance management.
Make your claim
Contact the Council to inform them of the accident you suffered, maintaining an unemotional tone but including all the essential details: the time of the incident, exactly where the pothole is, photographs of the location, and a sketch showing the pothole's location on the road. Include a copy of the bill from the garage where your vehicle was repaired for pothole damage. If your sketched map is inadequate, the local authority will usually send you a scale plan on which to mark the pothole's location. You'll usually receive a basic acknowledgement, then a further response to either inform you that it has been passed to a claims handler, or to refuse your claim.
What to do if your claim is rejected
Initially, most Councils will automatically defend the claim under section 58 of the Highways Act by stating that they have a reasonable system of repair.
The next step is to read up on the highways section of their website to find out what procedures they have for repairing local roads and dealing with claims for damage. Also research what the council is liable for, and whether their documentation says they have undertaken the necessary safety inspections and repair work within the required period of time.
Pursuing your claim
The Council may make you an out-of-court offer, which is definitely worth considering. If they don't make you an offer or the offer they make is unacceptable, your next step is to take the claim to Court.
Usually pothole claims will within the Small Claims threshold, which is currently £5000, which means that if you use a solicitor you won’t be eligible for claiming back legal costs, and you must pay them regardless of whether you win or lose. If you still want to go ahead, you can start proceedings through the County Court's system online at https://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/web/mcol/welcome.
It's vital to keep copies of every piece of correspondence you receive from the Council throughout this process.