The UK’s pothole problem is 295 square miles wide and counting. And with an estimated repair bill of some £10.5billion, it’s a problem that’s not going to be solved any time soon – even with the government’s £200million pothole fund factored in.
And it’s a problem that’s costing motorists millions of pounds in repair bills as hitting a pothole even at low speeds can damage tyres, wheels and steering alignment. Hit at higher speeds, a pothole can not only do even more damage but can also lead to a loss of control and lead to hitting the kerb, roadside objects or other vehicles.
So if you've hit a hole in the road, here’s how to make a claim for pothole damage to your vehicle...
Check your car for damage
The first thing to do, immediately after you’ve hit the pothole if possible, is to pull over and check for damage to your vehicle, paying particular attention to your tyres where damage might not be immediately apparent.
If you notice any vibration in the steering wheel, it doesn’t centre properly or the car pulls to one side, get the car checked out at a garage or tyre specialist as the tracking or wheel alignment could be out, or there could be damage to your steering column which could deteriorate and lead to an accident at a later date.
Gather the evidence
The next thing to do is to gather as much evidence as possible. As long as it’s safe to do so, you should take photographs – from afar if it’s too dangerous to get close-up - measure its width and depth, record the name of the stretch of road it’s on and get the contact details of any witnesses who saw the incident.
It’s also worth making a note of things such as whether it’s hidden from view, on a blind corner, or if there’s more than one pothole - but keep everything as accurate as possible, exaggerating things won’t do your case any good at all.
Report the pothole
The next thing to do is report the pothole to the relevant Highways Authority – most likely a County, City or Borough council - and you should do this regardless of whether you plan on making a claim so they can get it repaired and avoid other incidents.
It’s more than likely you’ll have to get your vehicle repaired before any claim is processed so before you get any work done, get a few quotes from various garages and keep a record of them.
Once you’ve found a quote you’re happy with, get the work done and keep a copy of all invoices and receipts as these will be needed to support your claim.
Making the claim
Next up, it’s time to file your claim and to do this you will need to write a detailed letter to the authority responsible for the upkeep of the road, explaining exactly what happened, when it happened, where it happened and the damage it caused to your car – remember to include the photos you took and copies of any receipts for the repair work carried out on your car.
You should also include a map, hand drawn if necessary, with the location of the pothole clearly marked.
The first response you get back will either be an acknowledgement that your letter has been passed to a claims handler, or a letter refusing your claim – don’t panic if your claim is rejected, the chances are it will be at some point down the line as they have a statutory defence that they cannot be held liable for a defect they do not know about.
If this happens, you should submit a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to see how and when the local authority in question undertakes inspections of its carriageways. The simplest way to do this is to do an online search, typing in the name of the local authority followed by “freedom of information” and this should throw up some results such as those below…
Click on the relevant link and then follow the onscreen instructions – the authority should acknowledge your request and then have 20 working days to supply the information. If they don’t respond in time, send another letter to chase them up and if still no action is taken you can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
If your claim is rejected
If the local authority has a sound defence under section 58 of the Highways Act and rejects your claim, you need to look at your case again and weigh up whether it’s worth making another claim – if there are no discrepancies in any of the reasons your claim has been rejected, it’s probably not worth going any further.
If you’re unsure, or if the repair costs were expensive, it’s worth contacting your insurance company and perhaps even seeking legal advice.