Ka-boom! You've hit a pond-size pothole and damaged your car. What's next? Gwen Young, Newsday's community watchdog editor, has some answers.
How can I get reimbursed for repairs?
It depends. Did it happen on a state, county, town, village or city road? You need to know, because if you submit your claim to the wrong jurisdiction, you may never see a dime. If you don't know who's responsible for the road, call the town highway department where it happened and provide the exact location.
How do I make a claim?
It varies, so start by calling the appropriate jurisdiction. Most towns require notice of claims to be sent to the town clerk's office by certified mail. Others want that notice sent to the town attorney's office. For Suffolk County roads, for instance, all information should be sent to the Department of Public Works in Yaphank.
If your vehicle was damaged on a state road after Nov. 15 and before May 1, when pothole damage is most likely to happen, you probably won't get any money back - New York State law specifically excludes that period from liability.
Again, it varies, so get the specifics from the appropriate agency. For instance, in the Town of Hempstead, officials need the exact location, plus pictures of the location and of damages. Most towns want a notarized signature. Some, such as the Town of Babylon, require two estimates of damage. The Town of Islip doesn't require pictures. Keep copies of everything you submit in case the claim gets lost.
When will I be paid for damages?
Maybe never. Most municipalities require "prior written notice, specific to location." In other words, if no one reported the pothole before your vehicle hit it and was damaged, the municipality doesn't have any liability. Liability kicks in if the entity ignored the pothole for an unreasonable period after it had been notified. There's no specific time frame that defines "unreasonable period."
What are the chances of collecting?
It doesn't hurt to try. Claims are decided on a case-by-case basis - though there's always room for skepticism by the people reviewing the claim. As Town of North Hempstead spokesman Collin Nash has said, "There's no hard-and-fast rule. How do we know your suspension wasn't blown in Manhattan?"
- Gwen Young