The snow has come and gone…for now, and the big melt has revealed lots of fresh damage to road surfaces across the nation. If previous years are anything to go by, thousands of drivers will be considering a claim for damage to their car from driving through a newly formed pothole. If you are one of them, here are some points to bear in mind:
Local authorities spend a lot of time and money defending claims for pothole damage if they think the claim is unreasonable, so make sure your claim is justified. Every case is taken on its own merits, but the best way of assessing whether they will fight the case or pay for the repair without question is to ask yourself (and answer honestly), “would a reasonable driver, driving at a speed appropriate for the conditions, have been able to see the pothole in time to either avoid it, or slow down enough to be able to drive through it without damage to the vehicle?” If the answer is “yes”, then forget the claim and drive more attentively next winter.
If the answer is “no”, then you should write to the local authority responsible for the road and include details of the pothole and the damage, along with the cost of repair. When assembling your evidence, be aware at all times that the pothole is in a road; don’t do anything to endanger yourself or others. Describe the exact location, for example, “on the B1066 eastbound, 25 metres west of the junction with High Street, Appleton” is a lot better than “on the road near Appleton.”
Try to get a photograph with the image indicating the scale – a wide shot which includes your foot on the verge will give an idea of the size. If possible, measure the depth as well, since depth is one of the main criteria’s determining whether the pothole deserves urgent repair.
Most councils have a website for reporting potholes; check whether yours has already been reported and monitor how long it takes the authority to repair it. A very rough guide is that if the pothole is under 40mm deep, you are unlikely to win a claim. If it is over 50mm deep, you stand a fair chance of success (this guideline is used by many authorities to classify serious and minor damage and is based on the success of past claims, so it’s a good guide).
Finally, get a proper description of the damage from a garage or qualified mechanic, together with the cost of repair and photos on any damaged parts. Keep any parts which are replaced and offer them for inspection if required.
By Tim Shallcross, IAM RoadSmart's head of technical policy and advice