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  • Can Potholes Cause Car Accidents?


    Drivers frequently complain about potholes, especially during the spring and early summer months when potholes tend to become more pronounced. Potholes are more than mere annoyances, though: they can be serious road hazards and can contribute to car accidents. 

    Each year, more than six billion dollars in property damage is attributed to potholes and similar “rough road” conditions. Additionally, some drivers and passengers who encounter potholes wind up with varying degrees of physical injury as a result of the experience. 

    What Causes Potholes Along Roadways?

    A pothole can happen on any type of road. Typically, potholes appear because of one or more of these reasons:

    • Weather and Temperature: Throughout the year, the roads in certain parts of the country undergo rapid temperature fluctuations. This creates a freeze-thaw effect on pavement. Tiny cracks in the pavement collect water end up housing water that freezes cyclically over the winter. Because water expands when it freezes, it pushes on the surrounding pavement. Eventually, this can lead the pavement to crack and break.
    • Road Conditions: Around the country, the nation’s roads are getting older. Many highways were originally built decades ago. Although they are repaved from time to time, their age can make them more likely to become sites for potholes.
    • High Traffic: It is not uncommon for roads with heavier traffic patterns to be dotted with potholes. 

    Potholes Versus Sinkholes

    It is worth noting that some people refer to potholes as sinkholes, but they are not the same thing. Sinkholes are caused by erosion of the ground, not movement of the pavement. 

    However, a driver who runs over a deep sinkhole along a highway or street can be in just as much danger as one who runs over a similarly-shaped pothole. Therefore, the basic principle of risk applies whether the road hazard is a pothole or sinkhole.

    How Do Potholes Get Fixed?

    Ideally, potholes will be fixed before they can cause or contribute to car accidents. Municipalities or state agencies are tasked with keeping the roads in their vicinities free from potholes and other poor road surface hazards. 

    It can be difficult to tell which agency is in charge of a road, though. You may have to check online to get answers. In Virginia, you can call 800-367-7623 to report a pothole to a main clearinghouse location.

    What Makes a Pothole Potentially Dangerous?

    If you have ever driven over a pothole, you know how jarring the feeling can be. You may momentarily feel like you have lost control over your car or have been jarred physically. You also may hear worrisome sounds like pops, bangs, or thuds coming from your car’s undercarriage. 

    Why does your car react so violently, even if the pothole seems relatively small? When you cruise over a pothole and your wheel goes into the pothole, your car experiences a sudden, intense force. Depending upon how deep the pothole is, the force could be similar to getting into a car accident while driving at 35 mph. At that intensity, you should not be surprised to have some damage to your car and perhaps even physical injury.

    What Are Some Common Pothole-Related Property Damage Losses?

    Potholes tend to affect parts of cars in similar ways:

    • Tires: Many drivers who run over potholes will have a tire blowout, even if the tire has been properly inflated and recently checked. A tire blowout is extremely risky because it stops the vehicle’s consistent motion and reduces the driver’s control. After a tire blowout, a driver may be more likely to get into an accident with another vehicle or static object like a guardrail.
    • Exposed Parts: Any of the parts under the car can be damaged by a pothole. These include but are by no means limited to misaligned wheels, damaged shock absorbers, ruined suspension systems, and damaged ball joints.
    • Private Property: What happens if you have personal property items in your car when you encounter a pothole? The items may be jostled out of place and potentially damaged or destroyed depending upon their fragility.

    What Are Some Common Pothole-Related Personal Injury Outcomes?

    From a personal injury standpoint, drivers and their passengers may suffer numerous injuries after hitting a pothole or being in a collision initiated by a driver hitting a pothole. 

    • Head and Neck Injuries: Concerns like whiplash and concussion can occur after experiencing the force of running over a deep pothole.
    • Back Injuries: The up-and-down motion of running over a pothole may injure a driver’s or passenger’s back.

    Of course, any type of injury from broken bones to lacerations can be attributed to an accident caused by a pothole. Drivers and passengers who suspect they have been hurt after hitting a pothole should seek treatment as soon as possible to document their injuries.

    Can You Get Damages After a Pothole-Related Car Accident?

    It is possible to receive compensation after being in a car accident or experiencing car damage after running over a pothole. The best direction will depend upon the extent of the damage, the cost to fix the damage, and the extent of any physical injuries.

    Two of the top ways to recover damages include through the driver’s auto insurance policy or by filing a claim with the government entity in charge of the road.

    Filing a Claim with Your Auto Insurance

    As a responsible driver, you should always carry car insurance to protect you. Your car insurance will include collision coverage. Collision coverage may or may not cover the cost to replace a blown-out tire. However, it will likely cover the cost to repair or replace other items like ruined struts if you can prove that the damage came from hitting a pothole.

    Your insurance agent will probably want some documentation beyond just your word, of course. Expect to provide pictures of the pothole, photos of your car damage, and an estimated bill to repair the damage from a reputable mechanic or dealership. 

    Remember that your insurance plan will have a deductible. If the deductible is greater than the cost to fix your property damage, you may be better off not making a claim.

    Filing a Claim with a Government Entity

    What if you decide that you want to file a claim against a government entity in charge of maintaining the road where you encountered a pothole? In that case, you will need to know the correct entity. Plus, you will have to follow specific 

    guidelines to ensure that your claim will be accepted. Government entities have strict, tight claim deadlines and processes. This makes it more challenging to file. 

    You will be expected to prove that the government entity was negligent in some way, too. Providing a government entity is at fault for a pothole can be a tough burden on you. It will mean that you must prove that the entity knew about the pothole and had enough time to fix it. 

    For instance, if the pothole appeared overnight and you hit it in the morning, your claim probably will be denied. On the other hand, if the pothole had been around for so long that local radio hosts mentioned it during their broadcasts for weeks, you have a better chance of getting your claim approved and receiving damages.

    Expect the government entity to push back against your claim. This is where having documentation including images of the pothole, eyewitness reports, pictures of your car damage, and other items can help. You may want to contact a car accident lawyer to get advice.

    Avoiding a Pothole Car Accident

    One of the best ways to avoid the need to deal with damage or injury caused by a pothole is to avoid potholes when feasible. Below are a few behind-the-wheel suggestions:

    • Beware of “hidden” potholes under pools of water.
    • Contact your local municipality to report new potholes or potholes that have not been repaired after several days.
    • Pay attention to posted speed limits so you have enough time to brake if you see a suspected pothole.
    • Stay back from the driver ahead of you so you can see potholes.
    • Take alternate routes if you know a particular road has a lot of potholes.

    You should feel free to consult a car accident attorney if you are unsure about how to file a claim with a government agency. Many car accident lawyers offer free consultations to walk drivers through their options.

    Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Can Explain Drivers’ Rights After Experiencing Damages Related to Unrepaired Potholes

    Did you suffer extensive vehicle damage or injury after encountering a pothole in Virginia? Speak with one of the Virginia Beach car accident lawyers from Anchor Legal Group, PLLC. Contact us online or call 757-LAW-0000 to arrange a free consultation at our office in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We handle cases from around the area including Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore.