More and more drivers are seeking compensation for damage to their suspension and wheels from potholes. If you’ve hit one, here’s what to do.
Nothing, apparently, infuriates British drivers as much as the proliferation of potholes on roads great and small. Such is their significance that there is now a National Pothole Day, which falls on 15 January.
Despite increased funding for roads infrastructure promised the the Chancellor in his mini-budget last November, our highways and minor routes are getting worse and worse, and potholes are wreaking more and more damage on our cars.
This has been exacerbated by the recent cold snap; naturally, potholes get much bigger when rainwater in them freezes and breaks up the tarmac.
Fortunately, drivers whose cars are damaged by potholes can attempt to claim for repairs from the council which administrates the road. But just how do you go about doing this? Well, now’s the time to swot up with our handy guide, just in case you become one of the unlucky ones this winter.
What should you do if you hit a pothole?
The first thing you should always do is to report the pothole to the local roads authority. If the pothole was on an A-road or motorway, that’ll be Highways England, one of the two Trunk Road Agents in Wales, Transport Scotland, or TransportNI in Northern Ireland.
If the pothole was on a minor road, however, it will be the responsibility of the county, city or borough council that manages the roads in the area of the pothole.
If you can safely take a photograph of the pothole, you should do so, as that will help the council to identify it. Alternatively, a sketch showing the pothole’s location relative to the kerb or centre line should suffice.
You should also give the council details of the pothole’s location, including the name of the town or village it’s in, the road name or number, the direction you were travelling in along the road, and the size of the pothole, including its depth (remember, only measure the pothole if it’s safe to do so).
Find out how much it will cost to repair the damage to your car by getting quotes from a few local garages. Make sure they inspect the car properly, as there may be damage where you can’t see it – such as broken suspension components, as well as potentially dangerous damage to tyres.
And make sure you get several quotes, so that you aren’t being ripped off.
Repair if you need to
If the damage causes the car to be dangerous to drive or unroadworthy, you should have it repaired at the earliest possible opportunity, and worry about claiming for it later on, rather than try and drive the car as it is.
However, if the damage is purely cosmetic – a kerbed alloy wheel, for example – it makes more sense to wait to see whether your claim is successful before spending money getting it fixed. That way, you’ll know how much you have to play with.
Make your claim
Write to the relevant authority, explaining your predicament. Make it detailed, but keep your language calm and collected. Becoming emotional or abusive is a no-no, and won’t help your case at all.
In all likelihood, your claim will be rejected at first, usually citing Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980. This defence allows the road authority to defend the claim on the basis that it took all reasonable steps to ensure the road was maintained, and that potholes were dealt with as swiftly as possible.
This is when you need to do a bit of detective work. The only way you can tell if the authority has complied with the Act is by finding out about its maintenance operations on that particular stretch of road. To do this, you’ll need to submit a Freedom of Information request to the authority, asking for the following:
- Details of any inspections carried out on that section of road in the two years before you hit the pothole
- Details of any carriageway defects identified during these inspections
- Details of the way in which the carriageway is inspected
- The intended frequency of these inspections
- The criteria for repairing a pothole – that is to say, how large one must be before it is repaired
- The time period between the first report of a pothole and its repair
- Details of any and all complaints about the state of the road surface on the section of road in question in the two years beforehand
With this in your possession, you can work out whether the authority really did do all it could to prevent the pothole. Compare and contrast the authority’s actions and policies with those recommended in “Well-Maintained Highways”, which is the national code of practice for highway maintenance.
Now you can respond to the rejection of your claim with another calm, collected letter pointing out the differences (if any) between the authority’s policies and the actual state of the road, and the code of practice. Don’t be tempted to make threats about solicitors or court action at this stage; simply wait to find out the authority’s response.
Hopefully they will write back with an offer of a settlement in compensation for the damage caused, either in full or in part. However, they may still state that they don’t believe they are liable. They may also have valid reasons for the discrepancies between the code of practice and their records.
If you’re not happy with this state of affairs, the next stage from here is to take the claim to court. However, it’s up to you to decide whether you think your case is strong enough to succeed there. If you do decide to go down this route, it’s worth getting legal advice first, to find out what your chances of your success might be, as from here on in, legal fees can mount.
To find out more about reporting a pothole, visit https://www.gov.uk/report-pothole
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