We’ve all been there, driving along happily when all of a sudden BANG! Potholes seemingly come from nowhere and cause us road users all sorts of trouble. Its no secret that potholes result in huge amounts of damage to road user’s vehicles, with UK councils paying out millions of pounds in claims every year. Hitting a pothole at any speed can cause damage to your vehicle, buckled wheels, burst tyres and misaligned wheels are all common.
The cause of potholes?
The main cause of potholes is weather, which would explain why the UK has such a big pothole issue. When water sits on a road’s surface, it begins to seep through and settles under the road its self. Temperature changes then lead to water expanding and contracting which in turn pushes up on the road surface resulting in deterioration of the surface and ultimately a hole in the road.
Another factor in creating potholes is road users. Ironically the very people that potholes bother the most, are the people causing them. The weight and strain that cars and trucks in particular put on the roads is no doubt a contributing factor to road defects.
What can I do?
So what should you do if you are unfortunate enough to damage your vehicle as a result of hitting a pothole? If the damage is enough to warrant a claim i.e. a tyre or wheel needing replaced, then you’d better contact your local council. If there is no damage to your vehicle it is still advisable to report the pothole so it can be repaired before it creates a problem.
In the event that you do want to make a claim, here’s a list of what to do immediately after the incident:
Measure – Firstly, make sure it was a pothole you hit. As obvious as this may sound, many councils do not consider a hole in the road to be a pothole unless it is at least 40mm deep and 200mm wide, however different councils have their own idea as to what makes a hole a pothole so it’s worth checking out with your local council. You can still make a claim if the hole is not to these measurements but you will likely have a harder time getting any compensation.
Document – Get some evidence together, with camera phones everywhere it has never been easier to generate photographic proof. this will help your case a lot. If it’s safe to do so, take images of the pothole its self, ideally with something in it for size comparison. Also take images of the road as a whole, note anything important about the pothole – it’s position on the road, if it’s hidden, etc. – and finally take images of the damage caused to you or your vehicle.
Report – As mentioned previously, it is important to make the pothole known to your council. Even if you’re not making a claim, it’s nice to be nice and being a good citizen is always rewarding. Information on who to contact to report a pothole can be found here: httpsss://www.gov.uk/report-pothole
Prove it – If you want to claim for damage caused to your vehicle, you need to prove it was the pothole that caused it. It will come as no surprise that there are people out there making all sorts of false claims in the hope of a pay out, its important to prove you’re not one of these people. Your mechanic should be able to put into writing an analysis of the damage caused.
Make the claim – At this stage you should be aware of which authority is responsible for the pothole you hit and you should have already reported said pothole to this authority, if you haven’t then you should. You should also have a decent amount of evidence to support your claim.
The first port of call in this instance is to follow the authority’s claims process, most councils will have a form for you to fill out and should provide you with that when you report a pothole to begin with. This isn’t always successful but is definitely worth trying before taking things any further.
Unsuccessful? – If you are unsuccessful in claiming anything but feel you are still entitled to a claim then do not be undeterred – this is common. The authorities – obviously – want to avoid paying out for damage. The next stage here is for you to make a full claim, though be aware this is not an easy or quick process.
Making a full claim
Research – First you’ve got to get your hands dirty and do some digging. Use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to your advantage and get some information from the authority who maintain the road where the incident occurred. This is easier than it sounds and simply requires you to write to the authority requesting inspection logs showing how the road is maintained and also for the authority’s policy for inspecting and repairing roads. The simplest way to make a Freedom of Information (FOI) request is using email – remember not to use any aggressive language – anything you say in this email could be read out in court should your claim go as far.
Dig a little deeper – Once you’ve heard back and receive the information you requested then you’ve got to read through all that information, again this is not an easy or quick job so be prepared to spend the time reading. Sieve through the inspection logs to find information on how often and how inspections have been done one the road – these details should be specific so make sure to note every fine detail you can find.
Next, you want to find information on the pothole its self, has it previously been reported? What did the authority do about it? How long did it take them to take action? Get as much information as you can gather, the more evidence you can get that the authority were in the wrong, the higher your chance of winning your case.
Cross-reference – Ok so you’ve come pretty far now and are building a decent case but you’ve still got a little bit more to go. You now have to read through the authority’s road maintenance policy, you’re looking to find anything here that does not match up to the inspection logs. You want to find information that suggests the authority were not following their own policies, or whether their policy is in line with national policy, yes, this means more reading – nobody said it would be easy.
Be sure to take note and make a list of any disparities between the authority’s inspection logs, their policies and the national policies – what are they meant to do and what they really did (if anything). If you’ve managed to find multiple issues here then you’ve likely a good chance of winning this case.
Finally – The time has arrived, you can submit your full claim. You’re going to write a letter/email, detailing all of the information and issues previously mentioned. Mention that you are owed compensation to cover the cost of repairs made to your vehicle and that the authority is liable, then explain why using all your evidence and research as backup. Be sure to include in your letter all of the information, proof and evidence you have gathered and be sure to reference the correct materials throughout your letter.
Once your claim has been submitted you may need to wait for an official reply so allow at least 2-3 weeks before chasing anything up. When you do finally hear back you will be told one of three things:
- You’ve won – Great news – this is the best possible result and you’ll be receiving the full amount to cover any repairs. Job done, go relax now.
- Part offer – Good news – you’re getting something back but not the full amount. This is common and you may have to be willing to accept the compromise, otherwise you could find yourself in court shelling out for court fees and might not even win.
- Rejected – Bad news – you didn’t win, even after all your hard work. The authority will likely send you a detailed explanation as to why, be sure to read this with an open and understanding mind. Remember this is tax payer’s money the authority is dealing with, so if you don’t deserve a pay-out, you won’t get one.That’s it – Job done, case closed, finito….. Unless…
If you’re still not happy, you can try taking things further by going to the Small Claims Court. Though this wouldn’t be recommended for a claim any less than £1000, also be sure you’ve got a solid case and a good chance of winning as you may well spend more than you gain on court fees and if you lose you’ll pay twice as much.
MoneySavingExpert.com have a decent guide on making claims in the Small Claims Court that can be found here: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/reclaim/small-claims-court