What Causes Potholes?
Potholes form for several reasons, including simple wear and tear from vehicles travelling over the same spot time and again. However, they tend to be at their most prolific in the winter months, when water seeps into the ground and then expands and contracts with changes in temperature. Over time this effectively breaks the road from the inside out, with the surface eventually giving way to form a pothole.
What to Do If You Hit a Pothole
Hitting a deep pothole can damage a car’s tyre, wheel, steering, and suspension. If this happens, it’s a good idea to pull over somewhere safe and write down the details of the incident there and then. Regardless of whether you want to submit a claim for the damage to your car, you should also report the pothole to the authority responsible for maintaining the road so that it can take the necessary steps to save other motorists or road users from a similar fate.
If you do want to make a damage claim, you’ll need plenty of evidence. If it is safe to take photographs of the pothole, you should do so, preferably with an item such as a drinks can or folded newspaper in the picture for scale. If you can safely measure the pothole, then do that, too. Also sketch its location in relation to surrounding objects (road markings, for example), and write down the road name, the direction in which you were travelling, and—if relevant—the postcode, village, town, or city in which the pothole is located. You want to record anything, basically, that will help the relevant authority locate it.
When making a claim, you’ll need to state why you think the damage to your car is the fault of whoever maintains the road (for example, the local council) and not you as the driver. Factors such as the pothole being around a blind corner can be evidence in your favour, as can any witnesses to the impact, so take their details if they are happy to provide them.
At this stage, it’s a good idea to get quotes from a couple of garages to gauge how much repairing the damage will cost. At the same time, to give you the best change of making a successful claim you should ask them to write a short note confirming the repairs required are consistent with pothole damage.
In most cases, it’s best to get the repair done and paid for and then try to reclaim your money from the authority in charge of the road. However, if the damage is purely cosmetic, such as a scuffed wheel, it might pay to wait until you know if your claim has been successful before commencing repairs.
How to Claim for Pothole Damage
In order to make a claim, you first need to know which authority is responsible for the stretch of road in question. If it’s a motorway or national A-road, this will most likely be Highways England, Transport Scotland, Trunk Road Agents in Wales, or TransportNI in Northern Ireland.
If it’s a local road, you'll need to locate the local authority, which is the borough, city, or county council for the area. Many organisations and authorities will have their own form to complete for pothole claims. If not, phone them and ask what the best procedure is.
In either case, you should send the following as supporting evidence for any claim:
- Details of when and where the damage occurred (include a basic sketched map)
- The extent of the damage to your car
- The total cost of repairs
- A statement from the repairer confirming the damage was caused by a pothole
- Photos of the pothole
- Measurements of the pothole
- Any supporting witness statements
It’s important to be polite at all times, whether by phone, letter, or email, because any communications might be used as evidence if the case ends up in court.
My Claim Is Successful
In some circumstances your initial claim will be accepted and you will be reimbursed the full amount for any repairs carried out to your car. Alternatively, an authority might try to settle part of the cost. In this instance, you need to weigh up whether to accept the settlement or to pursue the full amount. If it’s the latter, or your claim was rejected, read on.
My Claim Was Rejected
In many cases authorities reject claims for damage caused by potholes, often citing Section 58 of the Highways Act. This basically states that the authority took all reasonable steps to ensure the road was correctly maintained.
This doesn’t mean game over, but if you do want to continue to pursue the claim, you will need to prove the authority has in fact not complied with its guidelines on road maintenance—for example, if a pothole had been reported by another road user and not repaired within a reasonable timeframe.
In order to build evidence, you will need to submit a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the relevant authority. This is much simpler than it sounds (it can be a straightforward letter addressed to its FOI department) and means the authority is legally obliged to reply. Specifically, you are requesting a copy of the authority’s road-maintenance guidelines, as well as its maintenance log for that particular road for the two months leading up to your claim.
When the information arrives, you’ll need to spend time going through it in detail and looking for any discrepancies between the guidelines and the maintenance log that prove the pothole should have been repaired. If you are making a claim against a local authority, it is also worth comparing its own code and the national Well-Maintained Highways Code of Practice to ensure it meets those standards. If not, and you can demonstrate as much, then it’s another point in your favour.
Making a Second Claim
With evidence gathered, it’s time to submit another claim outlining any shortcomings in the authority’s maintenance actions compared with its own code and also any shortcomings in its code versus national standards. When you make this claim, it’s important to include copies of any documentation from the first time around, such as the extent of the damage to your car, the repair costs, and any supporting witness statements.
It is at this stage an authority is most likely to settle the claim in full or in part. If it’s the latter, you’re unlikely to receive more money without taking the case to court, so it might be best to accept and move on.
If you are still unsuccessful, the next stage is legal action, in which case it is important to first seek professional legal advice. The same applies if you have suffered a personal injury as a result of pothole damage and want to claim compensation, whether you were travelling by car, motorcycle, or bicycle.
Claiming on Your Insurance
At any stage in this process you might be able to claim for repairs on your car insurance rather than seeking compensation, provided your policy is fully comprehensive. However, you need to weigh up if it’s worth putting any no-claims bonus with your insurer at risk as well as face price increases to any insurance policies in years to come as a result of having made a claim.
It’s also worth remembering that, while claiming for pothole damage can be a convoluted and time-consuming process, many people have been successful. If you’ve got a genuine case, it stands to reason that you could be successful, too.