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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005


Pothole claims against city escalating
 •  Chart (opens in a new window): Major causes of potholes

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Each year potholes cost the city money. Not just to patch them, but to pay claims submitted by drivers whose vehicles have been damaged by problem pavement.

Nobo Acoba fills a growing cavity around a manhole cover with hot asphalt. The city's pothole patching crews are working Saturdays to catch up with the backlog of reported potholes, but it still is about a week's wait between a report and its fix.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

That's good news to Kaimuki resident Keary Haubner, who wrote to Bureaucracy Buster asking whether government agencies indeed reimburse for damages caused by potholes, as a co-worker told him.

Haubner said he recently got a flat after driving through a "moon crater of a pothole" in the Ala Wai area.

"I hit it so hard my teeth clenched together and a shock went up my back," he said.

Then his car started making noise.

"When I did bring it in to get it fixed, I asked if a pothole could cause that and he (the repair man) said, 'Yes.' "

In 2002 the city paid $10,485.64 to settle 21 of 39 claims submitted, according to City Deputy Corporation Counsel Marie Manuel Gavigan. She reviews pothole claims as part of her job to determine which claims should be paid by the city.

The payments ranged from $79.80 to $2,627.48.

To report a pothole

Call the city hotline, 527-6006. Source: City Department of Corporation Counsel

Of those not paid by the city, 12 were referred to other jurisdictions — the state, Board of Water Supply, private contractors — five others were denied and one was thrown out because of a statute of limitations.

But the number of pothole claims has skyrocketed since then, to 64 in 2003 and 353 last year, according to Gavigan.

She blamed the increase on the weather, noting that the number of claims increases during periods of heavy rain — as does the number of potholes.

This huge pothole formed on Queen Street near Cummins Sreet last month. Drivers can file a claim with the city for pothole damage.

Advertiser library photo

The amounts paid on those claims were not yet available.

The first thing a resident must do is determine whether the damage occurred on a state or city road.

Once a claim is filed, "we send a letter telling them that we need to make an investigation," said Gavigan. "We have to determine whether the city has legal responsibility for their claim."

For that, the agency needs documentation, such as repair bills or proof of damage and a repair estimate, she said. Generally, it takes about three months to process such a claim, she said.

Haubner has done his best to document the damage to his car — which totaled $119.

How to file a pothole claim on O'ahu

• People who think their vehicle sustained damage from a pothole on a city road can file a claim to pay for repairs. Claim forms may be obtained by calling the Department of the Corporation Counsel at 523-4639.

• Once a claim is received, the city conducts an investigation. The time it takes to complete depends on the complexity of the claim and the number of claims being handled at any given time. Right now, pothole claims are taking up to three months to process.

• Based on the results of the investigation, the city decides whether to approve or deny the claim. Each claim is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. For 2002, claims paid out ranged from $79.80 to $2,627.48.

Source: City Department of Corporation Counsel

"I have since replaced the tire but still have kept the damaged one along with keeping the receipt and have taken a picture of the pothole that caused the flat tire," Haubner said.

The city tries to patch potholes within 48 hours of getting a report, said Larry Leopardi, city road maintenance division chief.

However, crews can't always get there that fast, he said.

"We're probably up to about a week" right now, he said. "We've been working our crews on Saturdays" to try to catch up.

He encouraged residents to call the city's pothole hotline — 527-6006 — to report a pothole.

"That's really the quickest way to report a pothole," he said. "That's the way to go."

Leopardi knows that sometimes people try to drive in a kind of obstacle course to avoid the potholes they encounter daily or weekly. "It creates the opportunity for more accidents. You've got cars that are doing unusual things or at least unexpected things," he said.

As for pothole-related damage, Gavigan encouraged drivers to submit all legitimate claims. But she sounded one cautionary note: Anybody that submits a false claim can be subject to a fine and forced to pay three times the amount of the damages sustained.

• • •

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Honolulu, HI 96813

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