Before our deluge of rain, Oakland had its share of road hazards. Now, potholes have sprouted up in more places than daffodils. If you hit a big one, your car can suffer steering problems, a flat tire, or bent rims. Hit a pothole when riding a bike, and you can do serious damage to both your two-wheeled vehicle and your body.
If a pothole or other road hazard damages your vehicle, it's possible to file a claim against the city or other government entity responsible for the road. But it may not be worth your time unless the damage was significant.
Governments are protected under sovereign immunity. That means under state and federal laws, the government is not liable for the damage as long as it exercised reasonable care in maintaining the road.
If someone else hit a pothole, lost control of his car, and hit your vehicle, sovereign immunity still protects the government entity responsible for road maintenance. You do, however, have reason to file a claim against the driver.
To prove a negligence claim involving a pothole, you have to show that the government entity had notice of the pothole, and had notice for long enough time to have repaired the pothole. Without that notice, you likely don't have a claim against the government, even if you got hurt.
The same applies if you hit a pothole on your bike. In this case, the injuries are probably more severe. Consult with a personal injury lawyer to determine whether you have a claim.
A client of mine hit a pothole in Berkeley, flipped over the handlebars, and fell. He broke a leg and an arm. Our investigation and discovery showed the City of Berkeley had notice of the pothole for six months before the accident. My client received a good settlement in the end.
If you notice exceptionally large and dangerous potholes, report them using the City of Oakland's SeeClickFix tool. You can also report illegal dumping, graffiti, and other problems. This gives the city some notice of the damage.
Even if you think your pothole-related accident or injury isn't worth pursuing, consider meeting with an experienced personal injury or property damage attorney to discuss your case. There are many different angles to consider when it comes to who is responsible for the damage.
Photo courtesy of Bart Maguire, Flickr