RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Hit a pothole in Richmond and good luck getting reimbursed for the damage to your car.
8News found a little-known pothole policy that can make getting your money back a long shot. 8News has reviewed the city’s pothole claims policy and the few claims that have been paid out.
Richmond resident Tracy Mosby was one of the lucky ones. A patch in the pavement on Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond still marks the spot where a pothole swallowed her tire, causing it to go flat.
“My tire was actually $339.49 for one tire,” Mosby said.
She filed a police report for the February incident. She also snapped some photos of the culprit and filed a claim with the City.
“They reimbursed my money within a month,” she said.
It was a painless process for Mosby. City records show there had been several complaints about that pothole a month earlier.
It was not so painless for Richmonder Blair Just when a monster pothole on Malvern Avenue wrecked his Honda.
“The pothole was about 4 to 4.5 feet in width,” he told 8News. “It was 18 inches deep give or take. From the jolt that I got, I knew there was damage to my car.”
It was about $220 worth of damage.
“I had a bent rim and the car was significantly out of alignment,” Just said.
A large patch in the road still marks the scene of crime today.
“You can see from the size of this, it didn’t materialize overnight,” he said.
Just took photos of the pothole immediately after the incident. He also gathered his receipts and filed a claim. However, his claim was denied.
“The City has this incredibly self-serving policy,” Just said.
Richmond has a loophole of sorts in its claims policy for potholes saying it “shall pay for claims arising from road defects that have been reported more than 14 days prior to the date of the reported claim.”
In other words, the city had to know about the pothole, through written citizen complaints or from RVA 311, for 14 days or more and done nothing about it, to be considered liable.
“For what we pay as citizens of Richmond, in property taxes or real estate taxes, one would think that we would get better-taken care of,” Just said.
RVA 311 records show before Just struck the pothole, there had been multiple complaints about it in connection to a city water leak and repair. The complaints date back to February 4.
Just hit the hole on February 15, so, the city contends it only knew about the road defect for 11 days.
“That doesn’t make Just feel very safe.” He said, “This should have been marked off with traffic cones.”
8News also learned according to the policy that the “14-day period may be extended during winter months to 21 business days.”
In Henrico and Hopewell, which maintain their own roads, as well as VDOT, none have a policy linked to a number of days. In fact, when we mentioned that possible 21-day extension in winter, one Henrico transportation official said “that’s nuts.”
Henrico’s internal policy is to fill a pothole within 48 hours. Henrico, Hopewell and VDOT all told us claims are handled on a case-by-case basis.
8News shared Richmond’s pothole policy with personal injury attorney Matt Lastrapes and asked if it’s legal.
“The policy really isn’t grounded in any kind of legal principle,” Lastrapes said. “Why is it 14 days? Why not 21, why not seven, why not three?”
Lastrapes says the policy requires actual notice that the City knew about the problem.
“They’re actually also liable for constructive notice, which is in the exercise of ordinary care,” he said. “They should have known about that problem.”
The attorney said the City, like any landowner, has a duty to maintain its property and inspect for defects, not just rely on the public to report problems.
The City’s Risk Management Department says 14 days was not some arbitrary number but set because the Department of Public Works needs two weeks to get the pothole in the system, schedule repairs and get asphalt.
They told 8News the 21-day extension has only been used once and was put in place because the asphalt plant closes when it’s too col
Richmond City Councilman Andreas Addison says Richmond needs to explore best practices.
“I am open to exploring that policy,” he said.
Addison explained when the policy was put in place years ago, the city wasn’t paving roads like it is now. He said back then, potholes and the claims for damage were abundant. 8News can confirm that’s true from past reporting.
“A couple years ago, we were filling 10,000 plus potholes a year,” Addison said.
The councilman says Richmond now sets aside a lot more money for paving and that should result in fewer potholes and claims. As of May 31, 2021, 43 claims were filed with the city this year.
Mosby was just one of six to get paid — that’s just 14% of the claims.
“I think it is in the best interest of making sure our residents are responded to properly,” Addison said.
As for Just, it’s not about money, it’s the principle of the issue.
“It’s about the way the city seems to insulate itself from any responsibility or liability,” he said.