WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - With more than 106,000 miles of public roads in North Carolina, there are bound to be bumps and potholes along the way. Some potholes are just deep enough to interrupt your smooth ride, while others can cause damage to your car, truck or SUV. If the resulting flat tire also deflated your bank account, there may be a way to get your money back from your city or the state.
"As soon as I hit, I thought, 'OK, I've got a problem,'" John Gordon of Southport said about the pothole he hit in December 2013.
"I hit it and my car went to the side," Charlotte Buckley recalled about the pothole she hit along Maple Avenue in Wilmington in May 2014. "It scared me."
Buckley was driving on the street not long after a rainstorm and said she never saw the pothole under the standing water.
"Even if I would have known (about the pothole), I could have slowed down and went in the other lane a little," she said. The result was a damaged tire and bent rim on her car. With labor costs, the repairs came to $337.82.
Gordon knew about the pothole at West Ninth and Caswell Streets in Southport before he hit it in December 2013 because he had seen it while driving in that area.
"As I approached this intersection, I saw two young people on bicycles approaching the intersection," Gordon said. "So I naturally slowed down to focus on them, forgot about the pothole and hit it. The (driver's side front) tire had a big gash in it and it couldn't be repaired."
Gordon's repair bill came to $111.18.
The difference in these two stories? Gordon got reimbursed for his damages, and Buckley had to pay for the damages out of her own pocket.
Gordon received compensation from the Department of Transportation, presumably because he had previously reported the pothole to the DOT.
"(DOT work crews) filled it up on a temporary basis initially," Gordon said. "It doesn't last long when they do it that way. The rain washes it out. I think they did that twice. But it had already washed out again when I hit it a couple of weeks later."
The state doesn't cough up the cash in these cases very often. According to state records, of 333 claims filed for pothole damage in 2014, only eight were approved.
When pressed for a policy on why they approve or deny claims submitted for pothole damage, DOT officials referred us to the Attorney General's office, which acts as an attorney for the DOT in these cases. According to records, it appears the state's policy is similar to one in place for the City of Wilmington.
"If we have knowledge that the condition exists, and we don't do anything about it in a reasonable amount of time, we would accept liability for that damage," said Jack Stein, the safety programs manager for the City of Wilmington who is responsible for investigating claims of pothole damage filed against the city. "If we have no notification the condition existed, we don't have an opportunity to fix it."
Stein says a reasonable amount of time for city crews to fix a reported pothole is 24 hours.
"If we got calls and just let them go for a week or two weeks, and didn't do anything about it, then we would certainly be negligent," he said. "But for me, it's based on the knowledge that the condition existed."
"Pothole notifications are probably the No. 1 call we get from citizens," said Gerard Taylor, county maintenance engineer for the DOT in Division 3, which includes New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties. "We rely on the public to call the county maintenance offices and report it. Generally speaking, with something like a pothole, usually within two or three days it's remedied. If someone expresses that it's an emergency, generally that same day we're going out."
Taylor and Stein encourage citizens to report potholes to their respective offices. Gordon says his case is proof that by calling and reporting a pothole, not only do you let crews know that the road needs to be fixed, you might help someone receive payment for damages resulting from hitting the pothole.
"If you see a pothole that looks hazardous, and most are, report it to the city, state, county, whoever has jurisdiction of the road," Gordon said. "Writing a letter or sending an email are good ideas. If you do damage like I did, I would call the police, immediately call the city or state and explain what just happened. If you can, take pictures of the pothole and the damage, and follow it up."
"If you call in a pothole and somebody else runs into it, then they may get reimbursed for the damages," Buckley said. "So I hate to be a pothole caller-inner, but if I see a pothole like that I will automatically note it and I will call, and I think other people should call in, too."