If you’ve ever been in a pothole accident, you may wonder who’s liable; the answer to that question may surprise you. In Illinois, the law is clear: cities and other authorized entities are responsible for maintaining and repairing the roadways. Unfortunately, liability isn’t so cut and dry.
If you were injured from pothole damage here in Chicago, you might be entitled to file a claim against the city. However, to hold the government accountable, you must prove certain elements. Keep reading to learn more about the conditions you must meet and your rights under Illinois law.
What Are Potholes?
Potholes are divots or depressions that develop within asphalt pavement. They’re caused by an abundance of water accumulating under the pavement. This is why they tend to be more abundant in the spring once significant amounts of snow and ice have fallen and melted. These circular spots generally start small, growing in size with each passing car that travels over them. The passing of snow plows up and down Chicago area streets only causes a further expansion of potholes.
If left unaddressed, potholes can become deeper and wider. Their edges can also become sharp or jagged. Potholes can be difficult to notice from a distance and thus often result in people tripping or falling or getting a tire stuck or punctured in them. These accidents are quite common when potholes exist.
How Big of an Issue Are Poor Road Conditions?
Public investment in U.S. infrastructure has steadily declined since the 1960s, leading the nation to rank 13th in terms of infrastructure quality.
While this considers all infrastructure, at least 45,000 bridges and one in five miles of road are in poor shape, per the American Society of Civil Engineers. The White House signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in November 2021, however, few areas have seen improvements since then. Poor road conditions, such as the following, still persist:
- Missing barriers and guardrails
- Significant shoulder drop-offs
- Poor road design
- Wheel ruts
- Unsafe construction zones
- Uncleared ice and snow
Proving Liability in a Pothole Accident Case
Potholes are not only a safety hazard but can cause significant damage to your vehicle, as previously mentioned. So, what happens when you’re involved in an accident involving one? Who’s liable for the damages?
You first need to determine if a pothole caused the accident. It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s essential to consider other potential causes.
Know Who’s Responsible for Maintaining Chicago Roads
Chicago and all surrounding areas have a legal duty to keep up and fix its public roads. When the city fails to uphold this duty, it can significantly affect the lives of its citizens. Road maintenance is the city’s responsibility, and they must ensure that all public roads are up to standard and safe for drivers.
However, holding them responsible for damage or injuries can be difficult and largely depends on the city’s rules. As we also pointed out, multiple parties may also be liable for the accident. Without understanding local liability and roadway conditions, it might be tough to determine who is at fault for a road collapse or other accident-related damage. However, a personal injury lawyer can assist you with this process.
If a city is aware or should have been aware of the pothole and its hazardous condition, it may be held accountable for any injuries. However, proving this might necessitate thorough research into past grievances, accidents, historical weather reports, or even testimony from witnesses.
Showing That the Government Knew About the Hazardous Road Conditions
If you’re certain that a pothole caused the accident, you must show that the City of Chicago or another municipality knew about the hazard and failed to repair it. In most cases, governments discover hazardous road conditions in one of two ways:
- They’re reported by individuals who qualify for compensation
- By surveying the roadways regularly
Road construction may occasionally be the government’s attempt to repair a road, leading to accidents and vehicle damage. You might have a right to compensation if your car is subjected to a dangerous work zone in Chicago or elsewhere in Illinois.
To win a claim against the government for damage to your car due to poor road conditions, you must demonstrate:
- Your claim that the government was aware of the dangerous road conditions
- And that it failed to correct them within a reasonable time
Say, for example, a large pothole forms on a busy street in Chicago. The local paper floods with letters to the editor, and people have brought it up during recent city council meetings. Unfortunately, the pothole is left unaddressed for six months. If the pothole damages your car, you can claim compensation from the city if city officials were aware of it and had sufficient time to repair it. This may be all the proof that you need that the city was well-aware of the problem.
Understanding the cause of your accident and determining whether the city knew about the road conditions will help you figure out how to proceed with your claim.
Proving negligence can be challenging, so it’s essential to have an experienced car accident lawyer on your side. Attorneys like ours at Thomas Law Offices can help investigate your Chicago accident and gather the evidence you need to prove your case.
Who Can You Hold Liable for a Pothole Accident?
Driving accidents can be challenging to understand who is at fault—and whether you have a valid Illinois claim. Any number of parties may be liable for a tire blowout, for example, that stems from you running over a pothole, including the:
- Tire’s manufacturer – The manufacturer might be liable if a defective tire caused the accident, thus warranting the filing of a product liability claim.
- Driver – If the driver was speeding or driving recklessly, they might be liable for any accident.
- City – The city might be liable if a pothole or other road hazard caused the accident.
Individuals seeking compensation for their damages need to be aware of all liable parties, so they know who to pursue for damages, whether they’re the ones affecting the body of the car or yourself. A personal injury lawyer at Thomas Law Offices can help you sort out liability in your crash case.
What Are Your Rights Under Illinois Law?
If you’re involved in an accident caused by a pothole, you may be entitled to compensation from the government entity that is responsible for maintaining the roads. An article published by National Public Radio (NPR) in 2018 highlighted how the city approved over 1,100 claims for vehicle damage from potholes.
If your car was damaged due to a pothole, you could submit a form to the City of Chicago Office of the City Clerk. You must collect as much information as possible to include with your claim. If possible, you should include:
- Any witness statements and information
- Photos of the pothole and damage to your car
- The location of the pothole in the city or a call 311 to report the pothole
After that, you can potentially submit your claim and wait for it to proceed through the appropriate channels, which may involve filing a personal injury lawsuit for any injuries you’ve suffered or damage to your vehicle.
Ideally, you will get close to what you need to fix the problem, but the city rarely pays the full reimbursement because they believe the driver is somewhat at fault. In addition, there is no way to appeal the decision unless you’re willing to go to court.
When To Hire a Lawyer in Your Pothole Accident Claim
Making a claim should cover any costs you incurred or will incur in the future, such as medical expenses you may have already paid or will need to pay. Like many cases involving personal injury, there is a requirement that these claims be filed within a certain period, known as the statute of limitations. You may lose your chance to file if you don’t do so within this statutory time frame after your accident.
If you or a loved one has been in an accident caused by a pothole, it can be complicated to understand liability, what you’re entitled to, and how much you can expect in compensation. A car accident attorney at Thomas Law Offices can help you through this process and ensure you get the best possible outcome for your case. Contact our Chicago law firm to schedule a free initial consultation with one of our personal injury lawyers today to discuss your case and options to pursue in it.