New York City sports world-class museums, theaters and restaurants – and in the winter, one of its biggest, yet unwelcome features is potholes. Pothole damage can affect even the toughest, most durable vehicle. There is some good news: It is possible to get reimbursed for that damage. But, there are a few things you should know.
The easiest sort of pothole damage to get reimbursed for is the most common type: punctured tires and bent rims. That’s the kind of damage you can see easily, so it's easy to prove. But, head's up: It’s the less obvious damage, to the car’s undercarriage or exhaust system, that’s hard to prove was caused by a pothole when you are seeking reimbursement from the city.
Another issue: The New York City Department of Transportation has to know of the pothole’s existence at least 15 days before you had your accident. That’s right – if the city didn’t know, in writing, that a pothole existed, they will not reimburse you.
If you're ready to pursue reimbursement from New York City for pothole damage done to your vehicle, follow these steps.
Know Your Definitions
New York City government’s pothole description sounds almost benign. Officially, potholes are “circular-shaped shallow holes where the pavement has worn away.” Drivers may also damage their vehicles in cave-ins, which the city defines as “irregular-shaped deep holes where the street has collapsed.”
Collect the Evidence
No matter what type of hole in the street caused the vehicular damage, make sure you take photos or videos of the property damage to your car and the street defect involved. Get damage repair estimates from at least two mechanics. If possible, call the police and have a report filed.
File a Property Damage Claim
Drivers whose vehicles sustained pothole damage must file a claim within 90 days of the incident. You can file a property damage claim with the city either manually or electronically via the eClaim system used by the New York City Comptroller’s office. Whether downloaded or completed online, use the Vehicular Property Damage Claim Form provided by the comptroller’s office. Besides your personal information, you’ll need to include the date, time and location of the incident, along with the way the claim arose, and the items damaged, including dollar amounts. If there were any witnesses to the incident, include their names and contact information.
If not using the eClaim system, submit your claim either in person or by sending your completed claim form and supplementary information to the comptroller’s office by certified or registered mail.
Know Your Odds of Success
When it comes to pothole damage claims, the odds of success are against the individual. You can hire an attorney to file your claim, but the cost of legal fees versus the cost of vehicle damage doesn’t make economic sense for most people. New York City paid out $138 million over the past several years to settle pothole claims, so some drivers are reimbursed. Most settled claims involved personal injury lawsuits and potholes, which are handled by attorneys. From 2009 to 2015, drivers filed 12,286 pothole claims against the city, of which 1,549 were settled. The city reimbursed those drivers a total of $1.5 million.
For Those Outside NYC
If your vehicle was damaged on a New York state road, you’re probably out of luck. That’s because the New York State Department of Transportation will not reimburse drivers who experience a close encounter with a pothole during so-called “pothole season.” That runs from Nov. 15 to May 1, when cold weather makes potholes far more likely. Even if your pothole interaction occurred out of season, New York state limits the amount of damage payable to just $5,000.