Pothole damage claims rarely paid out by City of Ottawa

The 2016 pothole season is a big one so far, with 93 damage claims made to the city in February alone. That's more than five times the number for the same month last year.

Banner year for potholes leads to almost five times more damage claims in February

Pothole damage claims are up five times this year over same month last year. (CBC)

Making a claim to the City of Ottawa for pothole damage to your car? Good luck getting money.

Only one out of 10 claims made in 2015 for pothole damage resulted in a payout, according to information from city staff.

This season promises to be a tremendous one for potholes, with 93 claims made in February alone. That's more than five times the number for the same month last year, with only 17 claims in February 2015.

Considering the later thaw in 2015, there were just 42 claims for pothole damage last March, with the city paying out only three claims.

City clerk and solicitor Rick O'Connor explained in an email that no pothole claims resulted in legal proceedings in 2015.

O'Connor said it's too early to assess the number of settlements for February of this year. But the city record on payouts suggests a banner year in claims will not necessarily reflect an increase in city liability.

Potholes good for repair business 

Whether or not the city covers claims for pothole damage, the seasonal road hazards are creating brisk business for local garages.

On top of damaging a vehicle's tires and rims, potholes can also wreck front ends, wheel bearings, and alignments.
Sandro Giaccone shows damage caused by potholes to a customer's rims. (CBC)

Sandro Giaccone, branch manager at Frisby Tire Company in Ottawa, said the garage has seen a number of customers affected.

"We've had more thaw and freeze cycles this year than we've ever had," he said, "and that's a recipe for making potholes."

But trying to get compensation from the city to pay for that damage appears limited.

Small claims timely option

Few know better than Alex Liculescu, whose Mini Cooper blew out a tire and sustained $650 in damage after driving into a pothole last year.

The city blamed the pothole on the contractor doing road work, and denied the claim.

"I was left with no choice," said Liculescu who decided to take the city and the contractor to small claims court, finally settling last month with the contractor for the damage and court costs.

But that process isn't for the faint of heart, according to Liculescu. "It took 25 hours of documenting all the evidence, taking pictures, and putting a plaintiff's claim through," he said.

Personally, I have better things to do than to go through this again.- Alex Liculescu

He's not sure whether going the distance in court works for everyone.

"You can go try to get your money back, it's very likely that the city is going to say 'no, we're not paying you' and you may have to go all the way to small claims court to get your money back," he added. 

"Is it really worth your time? Personally, I have better things to do than to go through this again."

The standards of maintaining and repairing roads are based on "reasonableness — not perfection," according to O'Connor. 

30,000 potholes filled so far in 2016

Repair crews scramble to fix an increase in potholes on city streets this year. (CBC)
City councillor Mathieu Fleury said the city has filled 30,000 potholes so far since January, compared to 15,000 over the same period last year.

He supports calls for the use of more digital resources — like the city's website — so citizens can upload pothole information and pictures in order to help allocate resources in a more efficient way.