At long last, winter is coming to an end. This year, New York City experienced one of the longest and harshest winters in its history. Just when you thought March’s leonine beginning was beginning to cede to its proverbially lamb-like conclusion, we were hit with a late snowfall. Eventually though, nothing cold can stay- heat is bound to return to us at some point. And when it does, and the snow has all burned off, and you’re ready to rejoice—well, winter may have one last trick up its freezing sleeve: potholes.
You may be asking yourself, why must we deal with potholes anyway? Well, spring’s welcome meltdown may be partially to blame for the large majority of potholes. As warm weather begins rolling in, snow reverts in form, back to liquid water, which, per the forces of gravity, seeps into cracks and gaps in asphalt and cement. If temperatures drop again, the water will once again freeze and, in doing so, expand, exacerbating pre-existing cracks or creating new rifts. This process is repeated ad infinitum- and so April showers are, indirectly at least, sometimes the creator of these pock-marked pitfalls which sprout up across both pedestrian and vehicular landscapes like so many May flowers.
Now, when you think pothole, your mind might skip directly to roadway hazards. However, as alluded to earlier, cement sidewalks are just as susceptible to potholes. Therefore, potholes are categorized as either vehicular or pedestrian, with different sets of bylaws governing each.
The history of sidewalk pothole regulation is a torrid one. The rules set forth dictating who is responsible for repairing them and who is at fault if and when someone injures themselves while traversing one were hotly contested for some time. The original edict came from Mayor Ed Koch, who said that the New York City Department of Transportation was at only fault if someone was injured by a pothole sidewalk if they (the Department of Transportation) had received prior written notice alerting them to the defect. For a time, this allowed the NYC DoT to shed culpability by claiming that they were previously unaware of such potholes and thus couldn’t be held responsible for any damages they may have caused. As a counterstrike against this powerful loophole, a surveying company began conducting comprehensive annual pothole assessments, wherein they’d chart all of the city’s thousands and thousands of hazards. In 2003, Mayor Bloomberg updated the sidewalk-accountability codifications, shifting responsibility away from the City and primarily to landowners, barring some specific exceptions.
Some of the same philosophy applies for seeking compensation for vehicular pothole damage. For compensation to even be considered, prior notice must have been given to the governing body whose jurisdiction the pothole in question is located in. Also, New York City places a yearly moratorium on pothole reimbursement liability between the dates of November 15th and May 15th. These strictures considered, staking a claim at pothole-induced car repair requires massive amounts of evidentiary proof.
First and foremost, you’ve got to get your bailiwick straight. Was the pothole you struck found on a town road? A county road? Was it New York State property? This may not be immediately apparent to you but it’s important that you find out. It is an absolute must that you file your claim with the proper authorities.
Second, it’s important that you paint a clear picture that correlates your car’s damage with the specific pothole. Here, you’ll want photographic proof in abundance. Take pictures of the pothole, and the pertinent damaged areas of your vehicle, from all angles. You may want to write a detailed description of both the pothole and the car, including the dimensions of the pothole and the extent of the vehicular damage, both external and internal. A clear and thorough timeline should be established. Time of the incident, the speed you were traveling, and all other mitigating circumstances should be factored in to your narrative. Were there other cars on the road? Did weather conditions affect the outcome? Save your tow truck and mechanic receipts. Any recent “clean bills of health” from a mechanic could become useful as well. Have your passenger recount their side of the story. If there were any witnesses around, collect their stories. The agency responsible for a road will try and discredit the causal relationship between their pothole and your car. They will suggest that there may have been pre-existing defectiveness, or that any newfound harm was incurred in another borough / town, on another road.
In response to this strategy, the best weapon in your arsenal becomes proof. So gather lots of it. And retain counsel early. An experienced team of lawyers will help you sort through the evidence required, file the proper paperwork, and construct a solid case.