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Frank Gray

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City won’t pay on pothole claim – so drive around it

The potholes of last spring are just a memory now, but for a lot of people the memory is a bitter one as they got stuck paying sometimes hefty bills for damage done when they hit the holes.

Exactly how many people in Fort Wayne ended up with flats or bent rims or rims damaged beyond repair is hard to say, but there appear to have been plenty.

In a story we did last spring, tire stores reported a surge in cut tires and damaged wheels, especially to cars with what are called low-profile wheels, wheels with tires that have only a couple of inches of rubber between the road and the edge of the rim. If a tire is just a little bit low on air, hitting a hole in the roadway can have serious consequences.

Drivers in Fort Wayne, though, shouldn’t feel as though they were singled out by Mother Nature.

According to a survey commissioned by two organizations of independent insurance agents, in the past five years car owners have suffered at least $27 billion in damages to their cars as a result of potholes. That’s about $100 for every one of the 250 million cars on the road in the U.S.

It makes one wonder exactly how many potholes are out there.

According to the study, potholes are most common in the Midwest, Northeast and North Central U.S., but they are not much less common in Southern and Western states.

The study never gets around to estimating how many potholes are out there, but the point, the study says, was to illustrate that the pothole problem in America results in astronomical expenses.

That made me wonder just how serious the pothole problem was in Fort Wayne so far this year, which involved one of the most severe winters in the last 30 years.

According to city officials, the Street Department got 3,900 requests to fill potholes, and 3,400 people called 311 to report potholes. It’s not clear whether those are duplications in those numbers, but it comes out to at least three or four potholes that were bad enough for someone to report them for each of the city’s 1,280 miles of streets.

Nationally, according to the survey, 65 percent of the people whose cars were damaged by potholes either had to dip into their own pockets or turned to a third party, presumably an insurance company, to pay for repairs.

The study also uncovers one misconception.

Over the winter, while complaining about some of the killer holes I’d encountered, a store clerk said his son’s car had been damaged by a pothole years before and the city paid for the repairs.

A lot of people believe that’s the case.

Nationally, according to the survey, only 3 percent reported that local authorities agreed to pay for damage to a car from a pothole.

What about Fort Wayne, though?

Well, according to city officials, Fort Wayne isn’t quite that generous. So far this year 130 people submitted claims to the city for damage to vehicles. Of those 130, I’m told, a handful of those cases remain open, but the rest have been denied and the city has paid for no repairs.

So next time you see a pothole – and they do occur in the summer – drive around it.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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