News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 14, 2014

Now the potholes: But who should pay if your car is damaged?

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Who has to pay for damage to your car or truck from a pothole?

Most likely, you.

Cities and other government entities that own and maintain roadways are seldom forced to pay for pothole damage. In Terre Haute, the city has paid maybe one or two tort claims associated with pothole damage in the past five or six years, said Chou-il Lee, city attorney.

That’s because, in Indiana, it’s pretty hard to clear the burdens of proof required to show negligence on the part of a government entity concerning a pothole.

But do people still file claims for pothole damages with the city?

“Oh yeah,” Lee said, every time there is a freeze and thaw or whenever potholes make an appearance, claims come in.

To get the city to pay for pothole damage you must first show:

• Someone reported the pothole to the city before you hit it and

• The city had a reasonable amount of time in which to repair the pothole.

• After that, you must also show that you were not speeding or that you in any other way contributed to smacking the pothole. If you are found to be even 1 percent negligent, the city is off the hook, Lee explained.

That’s called “contributory negligence,” and it’s a common defense used by municipal governments in the state, the city attorney said. A WISH-TV news report from last spring indicated Indianapolis paid on fewer than 1 percent of its pothole claims in 2007, and other cities paid even less.

Motorists who suffer pothole damage on state or federal highways can file tort claims with the State of Indiana, said Debbie Calder, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Transportation. Those forms are available on the INDOT website.

In 2012, just 13 percent of the 340 motorists who filed pothole damage claims with the state got paid, according to the WISH-TV report.

The rationale for making it difficult to collect on pothole claims is that governments simply have so many miles of road to maintain that it would be next to impossible to know the condition of all that property, Lee said.

In Terre Haute, the 311 system makes tracking potholes (and reports of potholes) much easier than it was before, Lee said. When motorists submit claims for pothole damages, the city checks the 311 records to learn whether the pothole was reported and whether the city had enough time – and suitable weather conditions – in which to make the repairs. City officials also check with the street department and other city agencies that might have received a report of the problem, he said.

 Meanwhile, insurance claims for pothole damage are also pretty rare, according to Terre Haute insurance agents interviewed Tuesday by the Tribune-Star.

“We really don’t get as many as you would think,” said Rebecca Waggoner, an agent with Tatem & Associates in Terre Haute. Many motorists have deductibles that are greater than the repair costs or simply want to avoid making a claim, she said. Insurance carriers sometimes offer policies covering such damage, sometimes they don’t, Waggoner added.  

Only one insurance agent contacted Tuesday by the Tribune-Star had a pending pothole claim in the works. It was turned in this week.

On top of tire replacements, other repair costs from potholes can vary greatly, said Brad Bole, owner of Blackburn Collision in Terre Haute. Damaged rims can be replaced for as little as $150 for some cars or as much as $1,300 or more for other models, he said.

What’s more, the traditional time of year for pothole damage is in the spring, Bole noted.

That means the worst may be yet to come.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or

Report potholes

• Drivers can report potholes in need of repair.

• In Vigo County, call the county highway department at 812-466-9635.

• In Terre Haute, call “311” or go to www.terrehaute. and click on 311 link, then send an email.