Pothole season came early with Thursday thaw

A large water-filled pothole on Renaud Road near the Navan area of Ottawa left at least 10 motorists stranded Thursday morning.
This pothole on Renaud Road in Ottawa did damage to at least ten vehicles on Thursday morning. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

A large water-filled pothole on Renaud Road near the Navan area of Ottawa left at least 10 motorists stranded Thursday morning.

The sudden warm weather this week led to water that disguised the depth of the pothole, according to the drivers who learned of its presence the hard way.

"Well, I was just driving to work like any other morning and then all of a sudden I felt a really hard bang," said Josee Lavoie.
Josee Lavoie's car received a flat tire after hitting a large pothole. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

She's one of at least 10 people who got flat tires after driving over the pothole.

"Car after car after car was pulling over and then I came out to check mine and my front passenger tire was completely destroyed," said Lavoie.

Tow trucks busy

Tom Davis, another commuter, got more than a flat tire. He said his vehicle's undercarriage is also damaged. He had pulled over to help another motorist with a flat when he noticed his own flat tire.

"It's a huge pothole," he said in a matter-of-fact way.

By 8 a.m., the road was littered with hub caps as tow trucks arrived to hitch up vehicles. A city employee also showed up to direct traffic as the pothole was filled in.

Suzanne Larocque said her car was the first to be damaged.

"I'm going to call the city," she said.
Cars had to be towed on Renaud Road Thursday morning after flat tires and other damage. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

Claims 'not going to happen,' says Ottawa woman

The City of Ottawa often receives damage claims from motorists who have driven over hidden potholes. The city website contains information about making a claim, but that doesn't mean you will get a cheque any time soon.

"I wish them the best, but I just think it's not going to happen," said Holly Ormsby, the Ottawa representative for the review website Yelp.

In February 2013, Ormsby was driving her mother's compact car when she hit a pothole on Colonel By Drive. The five-foot-four-inch woman said it was deep enough to swallow her whole.

"My entire physical body could fit inside this hole and be covered with water and you would not know I was there," she said.

City denied $1,500 claim

Holly Ormsby has concluded the damage claim process is mostly lip service. Her 2013 claim was denied. (Simon Gardner/CBC)

Both tires on the right hand side of the car were ruined and the front bumper was badly damaged. She said it cost nearly $1,500 to buy new tires and replace the bumper.

Her mother's car was just one of a dozen damaged by the same pothole, said Ormsby, who noted a taxi driver was hit the hardest because both axles on the right side of his cab were broken.

Ormsby said she collected information from the other drivers and took photos of the pothole. She even found a YouTube video showing a city crew repairing the same pothole just four days before she drove over it.

"It proved that they knew the pothole already existed and that it was already the size it was," she said.

However, eight months after they all made damage claims she said they received disappointing news.

"Each one of us got the same email essentially stating they do their best to uphold the road standards, but they cannot fix every pothole. Too bad, so sad. And that was about it," she said.

City assesses whether standards met before paying claim

CBC requested an interview with a city lawyer about pothole compensation. The city did not make one available, but did email a statement saying they receive "hundreds of pothole claims every spring" and that they must follow the province's minimum maintenance standards for municipal highways when assessing claims.

Those standards require the city to fix a pothole within a certain time between four and 30 days once they become aware of the problem.

When the city receives a claim, they must assess whether the minimum standards were met.

"As is the case with all claims, the claims unit will make payment only where the City of Ottawa is legally liable for the damage caused," the statement reads.

"In the case of potholes, as noted above, the city will be legally liable only where the minimum maintenance standards prescribed by the Province of Ontario have not been met, as is set out in subsection 44(3) of the Municipal Act, 2001."

Process mostly lip service, woman says

Ormsby said she considered taking legal action against the city after it denied the claims. She even got advice from a relative who is a lawyer.

In the end she decided it was just not worth the effort and legal fees, and said she concluded the damage claims process at the city is mostly lip service.

"I'm not sure if we are tight on money in the City of Ottawa or what's going on but I don't see much hope for the claims process," she said.

A CBC story last year revealed that in 2015 only one out of 10 claims for pothole damage resulted in any kind of payout.