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Thursday, 27 March 2014 19:12

Pennsylvania Drivers Look in Vain for Compensation from Pothole Damage

Wayne Szalanczy is an auto body technician at Bob McLain’s Auto Body and Towing in Export, PA. Szalanczy has been spending his days explaining the necessary repairs to angry motorists who couldn’t avoid crater-like potholes, and are looking for somebody to blame.

“I haven’t seen it this bad in quite a while,” Szalanczy told Daveen Rae Kurutz, who reported it to Trib Total Media.

“Flat tires, suspension problems…Nobody is happy when their car gets broken over the road. It’s quite upsetting.”

The recent winter weather has potholes seemingly appearing out of thin air due to the cycle of freezing and thawing. Drivers are trying to dodge damaged sections of Route 66 in Delmont, PA, Lincoln Avenue in Export, PA, and Sardis and School roads in Murrysville, PA.

“Our weather conditions—the freeze-thaw that we have experienced over the last few weeks—damages the road surface,” said Valerie Peterson, spokeswoman for the local office of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). “Water leaks down under the asphalt and when it freezes, it cracks the pavement.”

After a couple freeze-thaw cycles, those cracks erode into craters.

But whether the holes in the road are the responsibility of the state, county, or municipalities, drivers will most likely be on the hook for any damage caused to their vehicles, officials said.

The PennDOT has a message posted on its website informing motorists that while they can submit a claim for damage caused “as a result of the negligence of the Commonwealth” it is unlikely to be result in payment.

“The law…prohibits the payment of property damage (tires, rims, etc.) as a result of a pothole. Because of this, no reimbursement has ever been made for a claim of this type,” according to the posting.

Although municipalities don’t enjoy the same carte blanche-immunity that PennDOT has, drivers would have to show that the municipality did not respond in a reasonable amount of time after becoming aware of such road hazards.

Most insurance companies do not cover pothole-related damage because it isn’t a collision, per se, Szalanczy said.

When they’ve had a break from salting or scraping roads, Murrysville public works director Bob Bell and his crew have been busy bandaging them.

“This is the worst year we’ve ever seen,” Bell said. “The roads are falling apart.”

Bell estimates that his workers have gone through at least 30 tons of cold patch—a temporary seal for potholes—and pick up new loads four or five times each week.

The cold patch Murrysville uses doesn’t require follow-up, he said—once it’s laid and dried, it’s good for the season. The biggest problem is letting the roads get dry enough for crews to go to work.

Bell hasn’t heard a ton of complaints—most people aren’t surprised at road conditions, he said. There was a sizable crater along Pleasant Valley Road that his workers have paid a lot of attention to, but otherwise, he has two crews who spend dry days canvassing the municipality in search of potholes.

Szalanczy said there isn’t really anywhere in the region that has been spared from potholes. “It’s pretty much so everywhere,” Szalanczy said. “In Export, in Murrysville, heading to Mamont, it’s hard to avoid wherever you go.”

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