Tuesday, February 23, 1999

Drivers not reimbursed for pothole damage




BY TANYA ALBERT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Neil Behrens saw a news report, it sounded simple: If a pothole damages your car, send the city or the county a receipt for the repairs and get reimbursed.

        At least that is the way he and others who blew out tires and bent wheel rims interpreted reports earlier this winter when potholes were taking over Tristate roads.

        He was surprised when the city of Cincinnati responded with a letter saying it wouldn't pay any of the $165 it cost him to get two tires replaced and his car realigned after he hit a pothole on Tennessee Avenue.

        “It's just like everything else, you have to pay your own way,” said Mr. Behrens, 68, of Westwood. “It's not going to put me on skid row, but it was kind of misleading.”

        Of the 60 pothole damage claims the city of Cincinnati has received and resolved, it hasn't paid on any of them. Clermont and Hamilton counties haven't paid any claims for potholes either.

        Claims on Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana state roads are still making their way through the system. But more often than not, claims throughout the Tristate are rejected.

        The thing that was misunderstood, city and county officials say: The law says they pay only if they are negligent, meaning the government would have had to know about the pothole and not fix it in a “reasonable” amount of time.

        Most potholes were addressed “reasonably,” city and county officials say.

        “Upon notification, we send someone out,” said Joe Uecker, Clermont County engineer's office administrator. “If we get a call from the police department in the middle of the night, we send someone out there.”

        When potholes made Ronald Reagan Highway hazardous, the Hamilton County engineer and chief deputy went out immediately.

        “We started bringing in crews all night ... we slowed traffic down,” said Ted Hubbard, the Hamilton County engineer's chief deputy. “That's not negligence. You're doing what you can with the situation.”

        Since December, Hamilton County rejected 23 of 25 claims for pothole and other car damage incurred on county roads. The two claims it paid weren't related to pothole damage; one involved a line striping machine that got paint on a car.

        Claims for damage on Ronald Rea gan Highway aren't included in those numbers. They were filed with the state and haven't been resolved yet.

        Butler County is the exception to the rule.

        It has paid 10 of 12 resolved claims — averaging $150 per claim, said Rick Rennie, with Columbus-based Willis Corroon Administrative Services, which administers Butler County's claims.

        The county has a few roads that are to be resurfaced this summer. The county highway department chose to pay for damages because it considers those as problem roads, he said.

        But most who filed claims elsewhere in the Tristate will receive letters like the one Amy Vonderhaar got from the city of Cincinnati rejecting her attempt to get back some of what she paid to get a tire fixed.

        “It makes sense now,” said Ms. Vonderhaar, 22, of Evendale, who spent $50 on a new tire. “But I had assumed that they would take care of it.”

       



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