Ottawa pothole damage policy a 'losing scenario,' resident says

An Ottawa man says the city's "hands off" policy on resolving property damage claims in construction zones is an "absurd" way to deal with residents whose taxes pay for the road repairs.

City turns some pothole damage cases over to private contractors to investigate, determine liability

Alex Liculescu said these potholes on Innes Road caused nearly $650 in damage to his girlfriend's 2014 Mini Cooper. (courtesy of Alex Liculescu)

An Ottawa man says the city's "hands off" policy on resolving property damage claims in construction zones is an "absurd" way to deal with residents whose taxes pay for the road repairs.

Alex Liculescu said the City of Ottawa denied it was liable after an unmarked pothole at the intersection of Innes Road and Stonehenge Crescent left his girlfriend's 2014 Mini Cooper with nearly $650 in damage.

The claim was forwarded to the construction contractor, who in turn denied liability.

"There were some unmarked potholes or road cuts that were very deep and they couldn't be seen in advance before driving through," he said. "It violently shook the car as we drove through the potholes and it instantly created a rupture in the tire and messed up the car's alignment."

Liculescu said the contractor denied the claim because the road was repaired within 12 hours of the complaint, and that it has been flat and smooth ever since.

'I would expect to deal with the city directly'

Liability for damage caused by potholes is determined by provincial standards that require municipalities to fix potholes between four and 30 days, depending on the size of the pothole and its location.

If property damage claims involve a private contractor, the city turns over the file to the company involved, which is tasked with investigating and determining whether or not it is legally responsible for the damage.

The city said it cannot intervene directly on behalf of a person who disagrees with the private contractor's decision, a policy Liculescu argued should be changed.

"I would expect that some of my tax dollars go towards maintaining and fixing the roads, and when I have an issue with said road I would expect to deal with the city directly instead of dealing with a third-party contractor," he said.

Liculescu sent a letter of complaint to two city councillors and Mayor Jim Watson.

Watson forwarded the letter to city solicitor Rick O'Connor, who said he would review the matter and respond more fully "in due course."

'In a losing scenario'

The standards of maintaining and repairing roads are based on "reasonableness — not perfection," O'Connor told CBC News in an email. 

"It has long been recognized that governments, and municipalities in particular, are not insurers for all misfortunes that might befall a motorist, cyclist or pedestrian using their roads," he said.
Alex Liculescu said the tear in this tire was caused by a pothole on Innes Road. (courtesy of Alex Liculescu)

He also said forwarding files to private contractors is "intended to shield taxpayers from having to expend public funds to pay for the negligent or other actions of private contractors that cause damage to third parties."

But Liculescu argued the policy leaves residents with no real option for recourse, should their claim be denied.

"The Better Business Bureau can't do anything because it's out of their purview, because you're not a client or a customer of the contractor," he said.

Another option would be to file a car insurance claim but Liculescu said it would be "pointless" to pay a deductible that could range between $500 and $2,000 for a $650 claim.

"On top of that, it counts as an at-fault accident. Your rates will increase for the next decade," he said.

City paid for 17 of 497 pothole damage claims in 2013

He added that hiring a lawyer to appeal the decision is "equally pointless" due to the cost.

"At the end of the day, you're stuck for the damages and nobody is willing to admit any kind responsibility for leaving the roads in such a state," he said. "I feel like I'm in a losing scenario. There's no real way to win."

He added that if a road is in rough shape it should be closed, or potholes could be marked with bright paint to alert drivers to poor conditions.

In 2013, the city paid compensation for 17 out of 497 pothole damage claims.

The city receives about 2,000 property damage or injury claims annually, which includes pothole damage claims, and finds it is not liable in about 75 per cent of cases.

Poll question

On mobile? Vote on whether you'd bother submitting a pothole damage claim for compensation.


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