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How to Report and Recoup Damages from Potholes

In Los Angeles, drivers reported more than 2,000 potholes a week as storms wreaked havoc on roads and potholes disabled cars by the dozens.

The relentless stream of atmospheric rivers have ravaged Los Angeles roads and led to thousands of potholes on freeways, highways, and surface streets across the Golden State. If it seems worse than usual — it is.

From a pothole on an overpass that sent debris flying onto the 5 in Glendale in mid-March to several large potholes that developed on State Route 71 in Pomona that damaged 30 vehicles, snarled traffic for miles, and prompted several nights of closures to repair, navigating the storms has been anything but pleasant.

In the first three weeks of March, residents reported nearly 6,000 destructive potholes on Los Angeles City streets alone, according to the Los Angeles Public Works Department.

The city is averaging just under two weeks to repair most potholes lately, a jump from the norm of two days, according to Los Angeles Department of Public Works spokesperson Elena Stern.

Residents in Los Angeles neighborhoods can report a pothole for repair simply by dialing 311 or use the city’s website to report portholes and receive updates on repairs.

When it comes to freeways and highways such as PCH, Caltrans is the agency to call for pothole repairs. The state agency has been in a race to repair potholes and sinkholes for weeks.

According to Caltrans, the unrelenting nature of the winter storms and early spring have provided precisely the conditions that are ripe for potholes to form.

"When it rains or snows, you get water that seeps through cracks in the pavement, then the base layer in the soil underneath the road becomes saturated," said Allison Colburn, a public information officer for Caltrans. "This eventually leaves a void underneath the road. So when vehicles drive over the cracked pavement, repeatedly...the surface then breaks and collapses into the void."

In District 7 alone, which covers Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Colburn said crews had filled north of 8,000 potholes between New Year's Day and March 20 — a figure nearly three times higher than the same time last year.

Caltrans actively monitors roads across the region during storm events, and crews respond as possible to the hundreds of reports filed by drivers.

"They're basically prioritized by the availability of resources, but also the priority of how bad the damage is," Colburn said. "A small pothole that's maybe not causing any damage or issues, that's going to be prioritized behind a large pothole in the middle of a lane."

For drivers who spot a pothole, Caltrans said using its online customer service request portal is the best bet.

"That goes through our system, and we have people who look through that and assign maintenance crews to it based on location," Colburn said. "That's the quickest way to get it looked at."

So, can you get reimbursed for damages on your vehicle due to potholes?

If you hit a pothole and suffer injuries or damages to your vehicle, find out who owns the stretch of roadway and what part of the government collects the claims.

Caltrans can reimburse damages caused on freeways and state highways. The agency will pay up to $10,000 in repairs. Information can be found here.

If the damage occurred on a city street, you can also file a claim with the city of Los Angeles here.

You may need photos of the pothole, the damage, and estimates in order to file the claim, though it’s worth mentioning that it’s not automatic that you’ll be reimbursed.

Drivers who believe their vehicle was damaged by a pothole on a state road, and that Caltrans was responsible, can seek compensation from the agency, but Colburn cautions that getting a claim approved is not a sure thing.

"I want to clarify that under California law, Caltrans does not insure vehicles for damage on our highways," Colburn said. "There is a driver responsibility component here. Drivers in California must exercise caution on all roads and have car insurance to cover liability and property damage. In limited circumstances, Caltrans may be statutorily responsible for damage to a vehicle."

For damage valued up to $10,000, drivers can submit a claim online. Anything higher is handled separately by California's Government Claims Program. In Los Angeles, drivers can also call : 213-897-0816.

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