December 26, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria denying most residents’ claims for pothole damage

Miranda Taylor sits Wednesday in her car that she says received heavy damage March 13 after it hit a pothole in Elyria and then slammed into a utility pole. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Miranda Taylor sits Wednesday in her car that she says received heavy damage March 13 after it hit a pothole in Elyria and then slammed into a utility pole. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — As if hitting a pothole, feeling her tire pop and sliding into a pole as a result was not bad enough, Miranda Taylor said she received a $3,868 repair estimate for her 2009 Toyota Corolla Sport.

The 21-year-old said that is like asking her to come up with a million dollars.

The broken car now sits in her driveway. She had hoped to find relief from the city since her car was damaged by a pothole, but a letter she received several weeks after the March 13 accident dashed those hopes with two words — “claim denied.”

“If there are potholes, I normally do everything I can to swerve and miss them. This time, there was a car coming, so I had to just hit (the pothole) and hope for the best,” she said. “Now, I can’t drive my car, and the city is saying it’s not their fault.”

Taylor is not alone.

Winter potholes have wreaked havoc on vehicles, turning neighborhood streets into obstacle courses that many residents are not lucky enough to traverse unscathed. The aftermath is dozens of stories of popped tires, bent rims and suspensions knocked out of alignment.

Since December, the Elyria law director’s office has investigated 22 car-related claims by residents who have hit potholes or other road hazards. Another seven claims have been submitted for review.

So far, just one claim has been paid for $64.57. A city wastewater employee left a manhole hook in the middle of Laundon Road in late December. Michael Hudson of Elyria drove over the hook and had to replace his tire when the metal gouged the rubber. The city reimbursed him for the new tire, Law Director Scott Serazin said.

“And, he was nice enough to return our manhole hook,” he said.

Other drivers who have banged up their cars have not been so lucky.

“It’s not like we have a policy to deny them all,” Serazin said. “We look at each one, and they are investigated individually.”

When a claim is submitted, both the city Street and Police departments are contacted to see if city employees were notified of the pothole or road hazard. If the city was unaware of the problem, it cannot be held legally liable for damage.

If the city was notified, the claim is likely to be paid, Serazin said.

Rickey Dewey, 29, of LaGrange, said he doesn’t understand that logic.

He hit a pothole while driving on state Route 57 in January and caused major damage to his car. The denial letter he received after the fact said the city fixed the pothole after he hit it.

“They say it’s not their fault, but fixed it,” he said. “How could they not know the pothole was there? When my car hit it, I thought my car blew up. That’s how loud it hit.”

Dewey said he plans to file a moral claim with City Council. It’s the next step in the claim process.

Taylor said she will look into doing the same thing.

“This is a complete inconvenience for me because I can’t really drive my car,” she said. “I can, but only if I really have to go somewhere. I have no idea what I am going to do.”

The last time Council heard a plethora of pothole complaints from residents was in 2008. That was before the reconstruction of Route 57 and dozens of residents filed claims with the city. A total of 83 claims were heard over four days, and in the end Council voted to pay 58 motorists. The total payout was about $12,000, with claimants receiving an average of about $144.

The maximum City Council will pay for any claim is $500. The city can opt to pay out at a higher threshold if it chooses.

Serazin said he doesn’t know if any of this year’s claims will go that route. He attributes the conditions of the road to the brutal winter.

Scott Payne, Street Department superintendent, said crews have been using a temporary fix known as cold patch to repair the roads, but the hope is to switch to asphalt paving as soon as possible.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.