Bumps in the road
CHAMPAIGN — Car damaged by a pothole? Don't count on the city to pay for repairs.
As winter takes its yearly toll on city roads and residents' rides get bumpier, drivers would be well-advised to keep a lookout for holes in the road. If you bust a tire or knock your wheels out of alignment, there's about a 5 percent chance the city is going to take responsibility for it.
In the past three years, 62 people have asked Champaign to reimburse them for pothole-related damage. The city has paid on three of those claims for a total of just under $1,700, according to the Champaign public works department.
In most cases, the city is not liable, thanks to a state law that protects public entities and their employees, said public works spokesman Kris Koester. The law requires only that the city keep its property in a "reasonably safe condition," and that it is not liable for damage or injuries unless it had good advance notice of any unsafe conditions.
Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray said his city has taken about half a dozen claims so far this year. Given the particularly wintry weather in Champaign-Urbana this year, the 2013-14 season is trending a little higher than the past couple years, he said. But this time of year is generally pretty busy for pothole complaints regardless.
Still, the city of Urbana is no more likely to pay than Champaign.
"To my knowledge, I'm not aware that any claims have been reimbursed at this point in time," Gray said.
Claims against the cities are managed by third-party claims administrators, who review the facts in each case and determine if someone is legally entitled to reimbursement.
The only time the city really gets involved is in investigating those claims, Gray said.
"If somebody blew out a tire on Windsor, we may be asked to confirm whether there's really a pothole there," Gray said.
There's always the option to settle a complaint informally, said Urbana City Attorney Jim Simon. That's always preferable to ending up in court.
"At this point, I've not been contacted through our public works department about settling any such claims," Simon said. "I was asked by public works about one person, and the facts were very thin."
That doesn't mean the city is always free from liability. If city officials were told about a problem and didn't do anything — or didn't act in time — they could owe the complainant some money.
In Champaign, that happened twice last year and once in 2011.
A Windsor Road pothole cost the city $913.84 last year, according to Koester. He said the city was informed of the pothole problem and crews kept filling it, but the pothole kept opening up. Eventually, it caused substantial damage to someone's car.
In another incident, the city fixed a pothole 20 minutes after someone hit it. The small delay cost the city $601.18. And in 2011, somebody hit a pothole in the five days between when it was reported and when it was fixed — another $181.20.
Since the beginning of 2011, those are the only claims the city has paid on, Koester said.
Gray also noted that the material the cities use to fix potholes is only a temporary solution. The "cold patch" only holds them over until crews can really fix the road — a more expensive endeavor.
In the meantime, Gray urges people to be vigilant as pothole season picks up.
"On those locations, we ask motorists to slow down, to be alert to potholes, to try and avoid them," Gray said.
Champaign officials say they have filled the majority of potholes on primary routes and taken care of serious potholes in other areas. They'll now move on to secondary routes and continue to respond to residents' service calls.
They say last week's heavy snowfall and extreme cold temperatures caused some delays in responding to problem areas.
Residents are encouraged to report potholes to the Champaign public works department by calling 217-403-4700 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Residents can also report potholes by visiting seeclickfix.com/champaign or by downloading the SeeClickFix mobile app.
Urbana residents can report potholes by calling the public works department at 217-384-2342 or by visiting urbanaillinois.us/citizens-voice.