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Pothole Program Pays for Damaged Vehicles, but Process is Time-Consuming

By Mike Brockway | January 17, 2014 8:51am | Updated on January 17, 2014 8:54am
 Large potholes like this one are popping up all over Chicago streets, and some end up damaging vehicles.
Large potholes like this one are popping up all over Chicago streets, and some end up damaging vehicles.
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CHICAGO — The recent outbreak of potholes from extreme winter weather is making for bone- jarring driving on Chicago's streets, and in some cases, it's damaging cars. 

Drivers whose cars get damaged by a pothole can send their repair bill to City Hall and possibly get reimbursed at least some of the cost.

But drivers who file a claim can expect to wait close to a year, and sometimes longer, for a check  — if their claim is approved, officials said. Generally, they will only be paid a portion of the cost of repair.

The program is administered jointly by the City Clerk's Office and the City Council's Committee on Finance.

"We have all seen the potholes, and it's a part of winter here in Chicago," said City Clerk Susana Mendoza.

Menoza said she hit one herself recently.

"We couldn't avoid it, and I had to take a look at the car. Thankfully, there was no damage," she said.

Mendoza said the pothole repair reimbursement is designed to "help ease the pain of vehicle damage."

"We're certainly sensitive to the fact that people rely on their vehicles, and we do what we can to help," she said.

Mendoza said the city sets aside some of the tens of millions of dollars generated from annual city sticker sales to pay to repair cars damaged by city streets.

"The City of Chicago has always had its hands full in maintaining the roads, it's the reason the wheel tax was created in the first place," said Mendoza. "All of the fees we collect each year through the Chicago city vehicle sticker program go toward maintaining and repairing our roads. So there's that connection."

Through the end of the pothole season in March or April, "We expect to help well over 1,000 motorists submit their claims for vehicle damage," she said.

According city clerk spokesman Pat Corcoran, the 2014 pothole season is off to a busy start, as the office already has seen a rush of applications since Jan. 1.

"Based on what's been in the news and all the potholes, we expect it to be a big year," said Corcoran. "We've had over 100 applications. We are going to be processing a ton of claim forms this year, that's for sure."

Last year the clerk's office processed 1,346 claims. In 2012, 992 were processed, and a whopping 1,616 in 2011 — one of the historically more difficult Chicago winters.

The percentage of applicants successful in getting some level of reimbursement was not available,  Corcoran said, but "I think the vast majority of claims go through and are paid out."

A driver whose vehicle has been damaged by a pothole needs to download, print and fill out the one-page damage claim form on the city clerk's website. Corcoran said the most important items to include on the form is the date, time and location of the pothole incident.

Committee on Finance spokesman Donal Quinlan said it's important to be as specific as possible on the location of the pothole because his office will ask the Chicago Department of Transportation to investigate.

"Take careful note of the approximate location of the incident," said Quinlan. "We just don't take it on faith — we substantiate. That's our job. We look at each and every claim for verification."

The form must be submitted by mail or in person at one of the three city clerk's office locations and must include a copy of the paid receipt for the repair work, or two estimates to fix the damage.

Quinlan said anything a driver can do to substantiate a claim, such as providing photos or filing a police report, is helpful in getting it approved.

After the claim is filed, it is then introduced in the City Council and assigned to the City Council Finance Committee for review.

The Finance Committee reviews the claim and makes a recommendation, said Corcoran.

Not all claims are approved, and drivers should not expect their entire repair bill to be paid, Quinlan said. He declined to specify an average percentage paid.

"If the claim is substantiated, then we offer a settlement, which is typically not the full amount," said Quinlan.

Once a vehicle owner signs off on the settlement offer, and it's approved by the full City Council, a check is mailed.

Unfortunately, due to this methodical process a claim must go through, drivers should expect a long wait before they will see payment.

"It varies based on the volume [of claims]," said Quinlan. "It can take at least 10 months."

The city has created a pothole tracker that shows where repairs have been made. Check here for more information.