City refusing pothole damage reimbursements due to weather and staffing

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People wanting the city to pay for pothole repairs to their damaged cars are getting new pushback from City Hall.

The city is mailing letters to pothole victims, and those letters are pointing the blame elsewhere. It comes down to winter weather, and whether the city itself thinks it had enough time to make repairs.

"I mean, it looked like a crater, like a meteor had hit the ground and I couldn't avoid it," said Tony Tolbert of Indianapolis, talking about his head-on encounter with a pothole back in May on Keystone Avenue. He blew a tire and broke a strut. The estimated damage: $1,000.

PHOTO: Pothole hit by Tolbert on Keystone Avenue back in May

The City of Indianapolis is refusing to pay for any of Tolbert's claim.

"They said they had no prior knowledge of the damage on the road," Tolbert said.

Now, months after the city's delayed patchwork, 13 Investigates has learned the city is also refusing to reimburse motorists who sustained damage from potholes that were reported but not fixed for weeks. A copy of a denial letter now claims the city didn't have reasonable time to repair potholes. It reads, in part:

"The City of Indianapolis was faced with such extreme temperatures and snow cover in January and early February, that it was unable to repair any potholes for a period of eighteen days and was only able to have one crew working in all of Marion County on two additional days."

Bottom line: the city didn't have enough workers and couldn't catch up, so drivers with busted tires in March are getting stuck with their own bills.

"So what is their definition of reasonable time? A couple of weeks? A couple of months?" questioned Tolbert.

"They did what they could with the resources that are available to them and the law affords that," explained Beth Garrison, chief litigation attorney for the city. "It's not a black and white case. It's not, 'You have seven days to fix that pothole'."

Garrison decides in many cases who gets paid, and said in some cases the city had more than 3,000 open service reports for potholes at one time.

"I wouldn't say that the City got behind. If it's not actually possible for DPW to get out and repair a problem, it can't be getting behind," she said, defending the City's position.

PHOTO: DPW truck working on potholes after this winter's damage

Back in May, Muncie decided it would pay all tort claims with supporting evidence of damage from potholes.

"Wow, at least there's an accountability factor," said Tolbert after learning about the City of Muncie's response.

Garrison said so far she's approved reimbursements for approximately 20 of the 200 claims she's reviewed. Last year, only six of 156 people who filed tort claims against the City got their money back for pothole damage.

"I wish we only had 156 this year," said Garrison in contrast to this year's 1,100 claims for pothole reimbursements.

"Oh, that's ridiculous," said Tolbert after hearing the odds of reimbursement.

As of Monday evening, the City still had 18 open reports of potholes across the city.

Still, drivers are encouraged to report pothole damage - but don't turn in estimates. The city will not pay for estimates, either.