Action News Investigation: Drivers seeking reimbursement for pothole damage usually get nothing

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It's the season where the roads open up and give drivers headaches: pothole season.

Action News Investigative reporter Chad Pradelli has found pothole payback is usually fruitless.

In our area, whether you get reimbursed for damages depends on where the damage occurred, and in some states whether you've been injured.

The thud of a pothole can cause an unease for drivers. Jason Kanthal blew out not one but two tires in one week on I-95 in late 2018.

He said, "Hear a pop. Boom! Boom, I knew it right there."

Kanthal had to replace two tires. He filed a claim on PennDOT's website, but it got denied.

"I am out $400. I can't get reimbursed. I can't get compensated for anything," said Kanthal.

Records obtained by Action News show drivers have submitted more than 2,100 claims to PennDOT for pothole-related vehicle damage on state roads over the past three years.

The Commonwealth has paid zero. Not a penny.

While the state says it'll pay for injuries caused by potholes, the amount doled out over that same time period? Zilch.

Troy Thompson is with the Pennsylvania Department of General Services which handles claims for PennDOT. We asked him why the state has a claim site on its website when they just get denied.

Thompson said, "Well everyone has the right and opportunity to file a claim. We cannot tell individuals not to."

Thompson said, like many states, Pennsylvania claims sovereign immunity. Simply put, governments are free from civil liability.

Kranthal added, "It's unfair unjust. I don't know how other states handle it, but Pennsylvania - I am upset."

DelDOT has a similar policy except for a one-mile stretch where the I-95 toll plaza is located near the Delaware-Maryland state line. That section of the roadway is insured as a primary revenue generator for DelDOT.

The state paid five claims over the three-year analysis.

In New Jersey, the state pays pothole claims if the Department of Transportation had "sufficient time" to fix a pothole and did not. It paid 68 claims for roughly $15,000, but a closer look shows that's only 2% of all the pothole claims made over the three-year period. Many drivers believe PennDOT should follow suit.

Posed with that question, Thompson said this, "I would say that they have every right to exercise their ability to talk to their legislator."

Some states like Maryland and Virginia do pay for damage claims. The Virginia Department of Transportation tells us its paid about a quarter of the claims that were filed last year, far more than in the Delaware Valley.

The onus is on the driver to prove that the damage was actually caused by a pothole. A good piece of advice, take pictures and keep mechanic invoices.
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