Pothole claims: how to claim for pothole damage to your car

Thinking about a claim for pothole damage compensation? Read our handy pothole claims guide for the key dos and don'ts

Pothole compensation claims rise after flooding

Potholes, and the damage they can cause, is a growing problem for motorists in the UK. Local councils point to years of underinvestment and squeezed resources as reasons for cutting spending on essential pothole repair work, but that doesn't help when you're facing a hefty bill for pothole damage to your car. But is there any way of gaining compensation? This is our guide to making pothole claims.

The total damage caused by hitting potholes costs unfortunate UK motorists an incredible £730 million every year, with the average individual pothole repair bill totting up to almost £110 per motorist. Potholes can cause damage to tyres, wheels, the suspension, exhaust and even the bodywork, while drivers of low-slung sporty models with expensive low-profile tyres on big alloy wheels can fare much worse than the average car, too. The number of potholes could also be a factor in the growing popularity of high-riding crossovers and SUVs.

However, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance it would take councils 14 years just to catch up with all the backlog of pothole repairs needed to UK roads if they carry on fixing them at the current rate. One council has even attempted to skirt the pothole problem by increasing the minimum ‘official depth’ of a pothole from 40mm to 60mm in an attempt to defer essential pothole repairs until the problems worsen.

Making a claim for pothole damage

Given the amount of money raised by government on road tax and fuel tax, it’s perfectly understandable when damage caused by the pothole menace makes motorists want to hold authorities to account.

Pothole repair 10

However while it is possible in some cases to hold a local council (or the Highways Agency when main roads are affected) responsible for car damage caused by unrepaired potholes, it’s not as straightforward as many would like.

Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980

Local authorities typically refuse all claims as a first step, quoting Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980. Section 58 offers a ‘catch all’ defence, and means the council is saying it took all reasonable steps to maintain the road, and that potholes were dealt with in a timely manner. Unfortunately council officers use Section 58 routinely in rejecting claims, even when they know this isn’t true. They do so on legal advice, as lawyers know most pothole damage claimants will give up at the first hurdle.

From then on, it’s down to you to do the detective work to determine whether the council has indeed carried out its inspections and maintenance to the required standard – which generally means in accordance with the Well-Maintained Highways Code of Practice.

This may be time-consuming and difficult, as you’ll probably need to use Freedom of Information requests to determine whether the council has failed in its statutory obligations. Specialist websites like the warranty industry-funded Potholes.co.uk can offer detailed help and support, but meanwhile here’s what you need to do if you fall foul of a damaging pothole on the road:

Pothole damage – essential steps to make a successful claim

1. Take notes and photographs at the scene

When it’s safe to do so, pull over to make a note of the exact location of the pothole that damaged your car. You should also record its size, depth and shape, and contact details for any witnesses. It may help a later claim if you can take supporting photographs on your mobile phone to record as much of the information as possible. Never take chances with safety at the scene of the incident though, or things could get very much worse when the next car comes around the corner!

2. Repair the damage

If you need immediate roadside repairs then you can’t do much else but follow the advice of your breakdown service or the garage you’ve called out. If repairs can wait, then it’s worthwhile getting several quotes from different repairers so you can show as part of any subsequent claim that you’ve acted to achieve the best price.

3. Report the pothole

Be a good citizen and do your bit to help make sure fellow motorists don’t fall into the same trap by alerting the council (or Highways Agency). There’s an easy way to do that by using the official online pothole reporting service.

4. Submit your claim

Write a calm letter to the local council (or Highways Agency) outlining the incident where damage was caused, the extent of the damage, and that you hold the council liable. They should respond within a couple of weeks, most likely with a Section 58 defence – but you never know, and might be lucky!

5. Decide whether to pursue your claim

Now for the tricky bit. You will have to use your investigative powers to determine whether the council has indeed fulfilled its statutory Section 58 obligations. You are entitled to ask relevant questions about the scheduling and quality of inspections and repairs on the road in question. You must subsequently determine whether you have a realistic case for pursuing your claim.

If so, write again to the council outlining your grounds for argument. It may be that the council agrees to pay up on receipt of your evidence, but if they don’t you are then faced with a choice of court action. A small claims court action is very cheap and easy via the latest web-based system called Money Claim Online, but whether it’s worth pursuing or not will depend on the cost of repairs, the amount of time you can afford, and the level of your moral outrage.

Have you ever made a successful or unsuccessful compensation claim for pothole damage to your car? Tell us about it in the comments section below... 

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