If your vehicle is damaged on a poorly maintained roads, you may be able to claim compensation. Here's how.
Years of underinvestment in Britain's roads means that your chances of driving over a pothole are higher than ever.
So if your car is damaged after running over a pothole, what should you do? Follow our step-by-step guide below.
Step 1: Gather evidence
As soon as it is safe to do so, make a note of where the pothole is. Take a picture if possible and measure it as well. And don't forget to note the time and date of the incident. If there are any witnesses, take their details too. Then take your car to a garage to assess the damage.
Step 2: Work out who is responsible
You then need to contact the body responsible for maintaining the road: for motorways and major A-roads it will be the Highways Agency, and for other roads it's normally the local council. It is worth contacting the Highways Agency or council as soon as possible to make them aware of the pothole, even if you haven't had time to assess the damage to your car. This could help prevent other accidents. Do this by phone, but make sure your name is taken and you make a note of the person your talked to.
Step 3: Make your case
Once you have a quote for the repair work necessary, you can make a formal complaint. The council in question will be able to tell you how best to get in touch. Your letter or email should contain a full description of the accident, where it was and at what time, your photographs and a sketch plan of the area. Make sure to include a copy of the repair bill/receipt for the damage caused, as well as photographs of the damage if possible.
Step 4: Be persistent
You only have a right to compensation if the council or Highways Agency has failed in its duty to keep the road in a good state of repair. A council may defend itself citing Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980, which says it is not liable if it has taken reasonable measures to ensure that road problems such as potholes are found and dealt with swiftly. If a pothole has already been reported and the council has failed to act, however, your case stands a better chance of being settled.
Under the Freedom of Information Act you have the right to ask the council when a road was last inspected or had work carried out. A website such as WhatDoTheyKnow.com can help you make an FOI request. You should get a response within 20 working days. The council should have its own policy for inspecting roads and repairing reported potholes: check that in your case this policy has been adhered to.
Step 5: Consider the council's offer
You may be made a settlement offer that is lower than the amount you are demanding. Think about whether it is worth continuing your case just to make up this shortfall. You might be better off cutting your losses and accepting what is on the table.
Step 6: Seek legal advice
If you think your claim has been unfairly turned down, you could contact a solicitor or make your own case in the small claims court. This will incur extra costs, at least in terms of your time, and is likely only to be worthwhile if the damage to your vehicle was considerable.
Step 7: Claim on your car insurance
If your claim is rejected and the repair bill you face is large, you can claim on a comprehensive car insurance policy. But bear in mind this will be recorded as an at-fault claim so you will have to pay an excess and could lose some of your no-claims bonus.
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Last updated: 3 April, 2014