Pamela Gregor was recently driving down Hillside Drive in her brand new Toyota Corolla when she hit a pothole and blew her tire. The incident resulted in more than $800 in damage and, to her surprise, it was deemed her fault by ICBC.
“I said, ‘I’m not! I didn’t see that pothole. It was full of water. How could you put the blame on me?’” Gregor told KTW. “They said, ‘Well, you can’t blame anybody else.’”
Two recent pothole-damage cases are raising questions about who is responsible and who should pay when vehicular damage occurs as a result of the pavement pockmarks, long the ire of Kamloops residents.
After Gregor’s pothole mishap — which occurred on Jan. 2 and caused damage to not only her car’s tire, but also the rim and required her vehicle to have a wheel alignment — Gregor made her first call to the city. She said the city referred her to ICBC, which informed her it was her fault.
Gregor said she was surprised to learn she was at fault because the pothole was not only difficult to see, but it was also impossible to miss or swerve around, due to its size and the area in which it was located. The lane to her left was filled with traffic and there was no room to pull over on her right.
Mark Bell hit a pothole in the same area on the same day, but at nighttime. Like Gregor, he said he did not see the pothole — but for a different reason.
“The street lights aren’t on that side of the road,” Bell said. “They’re on the other side of the road. That’s where the sidewalk is. So, you don’t see going down the hill. It was quite dark and it was right in line with the driver-side tire and, at the time you realize it, you can’t swerve and you can potentially hurt somebody and it’s icy. I just hit it dead on.”
Bell was waiting for the total cost of damage to his vehicle when he spoke to KTW. As an added headache, he went without a vehicle for some time as he awaited repairs to be completed on his vehicle.
City of Kamloops streets manager Glen Farrow said when damage occurs to a vehicle as a result of a pothole, it is generally on the backs of drivers. In Canada, he said, temperatures rise and fall, resulting in freezing and thawing that causes potholes.
Bell, however, argued he pays for road maintenance through property taxes. Hillside Drive is a city roadway. The city’s risk manager, Terry Pile, said the issue comes down to proving negligence.
“The city would have to have, say, been informed of a pothole and just did nothing about it,” Pile said when asked of a situation when the city would be liable.
He said the city repairs potholes when they are reported by the public, while crews also proactively seek out areas that need repair.
Both Pile and Farrow said that if the city is not aware of a pothole, it can’t fix it, and encouraged residents to report potholes and to do so as quickly as possible, in order to prevent others from hitting the pothole.
Residents can report potholes by calling 250-828-3461 or through the MyKamloops app.
If possible, residents should take a photo of the pothole.
Meanwhile, the city has a process, which is independent of reporting a pothole for repair, to claim damages. Pile explained someone wishing to make a claim against the city has to put in writing the incident to the city’s legislative services department. Details required include what happened, the date and time of the loss and why an individual believes the city to be responsible.
Pile said every pothole claim is investigated by the city. The streets department is questioned about whether any other members of the public reported the pothole and if the pothole was repaired and when. Was the city aware of the pothole and, if so, how long did it take to repair? If the city is found to be negligent, taxpayer dollars cover the repair. If not, the city explains why to the claimant.
City paid no pothole claims in 2020
The city received 35 pothole claims in 2020 and paid out none of them. Pile explained the city responded to the potholes within its service levels.
However, it may be difficult to hold the city to account in such scenarios because the city does not have in place a mandated timeline in which it must address potholes. The issue was discussed during a recent civic operations committee, during which Farrow explained the city does not have timelines in place to address potholes, as it does for snow clearing. In the past, he said at the time, staff have used an internal 96-hour guideline.
If someone disputes the findings of the city investigation, Pile said drivers are within their right to pursue the matter further through the courts.
Pile said that doesn’t happen very often and it is likely due to the cost of legal fees compared to covering the cost of the pothole repairs. In Gregor’s case, would the headache and legal fees be worth the $800 in repair bills?
Drivers are put in a similar situation when it comes to deciding whether to pay their insurance deductible. Pile recommended drivers contact their insurer when damage occurrs to their vehicle. Gregor said she weighed with her husband paying the $300 deductible to cover the remaining $500 worth of damage, but ultimately decided to pay out of pocket, rather than risk insurance premiums later rising.
The Hillside pothole has since been filled and Farrow is reminding residents to drive to road conditions — whether faced with ice, snow or potholes.
Drivers, meanwhile, will continue to pay the price.
“We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, really,” Bell said.