San Diego has paid out more than $1 million in pothole damages over 10 years but denied about a quarter of those claims, NBC 7 Investigates has found.
San Diego’s crumbling infrastructure is a common theme during elections and at council meetings - with street conditions as perhaps the most tangible daily example of a $1 billion backlog in maintenance and capital improvement projects.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s recent budget proposal allocates an additional $400,000 a year to increased staffing for streets resurfacing and the Regional Pothole Repair program – a new initiative that tackles pothole problems in geographic clusters.
With all this attention to those deep ruts in the road that can puncture tires and damage vehicles, our NBC7 Investigates team wondered how many claims the city pays out to drivers who have had their car damaged.
We found many people don’t even realize they can file a claim.
During the past 10 years, the city’s risk management department received 2,219 pothole claims from people who said their car was damaged when they hit a pothole on city streets, according to data released to NBC7 Investigates.
Connie Ybarrondo of Sabre Springs hit a pothole on Poway Road about a mile away from Interstate 15, which is within the city limits of San Diego.
“It actually jolted the car, as if I’d hit a curb, and so my purse flew on the floor, and I kept driving because I was just stunned a little bit,” Ybarrondo said. “It took me a second to realize, ‘Oh. I hit a pothole.’”
Ybarrondo took her car to the dealership where they informed her she had suffered $1,200 in damage to her tires and rims of her BMW. She went online to file a claim with the city of San Diego, including detailed documentation from the dealership and maps.
About a month later, her claim was rejected with no explanation from the city.
“I was a little upset. It was disappointing, to say the least,” Ybarrondo said. “But, I felt like, it wasn’t something I wanted to go fight. I didn’t want to spend any more money to risk maybe losing the court hearing.
“I ended up just writing it off, but it was disappointing, especially since I didn’t feel like I had done anything wrong.”
NBC 7 Investigates found that Ybarrondo was not alone.
The city denied almost exactly 25 percent of claims filed during a 10-year period, rejecting about 565 of the 2,219 of the pothole claims it’s received – or 1 in 4 claims.
Sometimes, the city issues an initial denial letter, but ends up paying out damages.
NBC7 Investigates removed those cases to calculate the total amount of claims rejected.
City spokesperson Bill Harris said the city examines each claim very carefully, but cannot comment on the rejection of specific claims like Ybarrondo’s.
“Really for us, it’s not a matter of percentages or trying to meet a percentage or keep it below a percentage,” Harris said. “It’s to treat each individual claim fairly. We treat each individual claim with as much due diligence and as much background and research and investigation as we can.”
Harris says it's best to return the claim form with all the back-up documentation either by mail or in-person. The more documentation and detail a claimant has, right up front, the more likely they are to get their claim paid.
“I was actually able to get a check back in six months,” said Logan Kranstover, who hit a pothole on Friars Road in the Mission Valley area. The pothole blew both his tires and bent his rims and an outer axle shaft, he said.
“I had actually probably suffered about $1400 in damage, and I went back and forth to the mechanic for probably about four months time,” Kranstover said. “I got about half back, so …. Not bad. I’m happy, I guess.”
Kranstover believes his success depended on providing extremely detailed information, along with the fact that Friars Road is a known trouble-spot for the city. During a one-year period alone, the city received 16 claims from incidents that occurred on Friars Road, making it one of the top spots for pothole claims.
“It was probably more work than I wanted to do, but I’m a perfectionist when it comes to that sort of thing, so I wanted to make sure the information was brought across accurately and detailed enough so I would get this done in a reasonable time frame,” Kranstover said.
Harris said, when filing a claim, it is helpful if you take a picture of the pothole, but definitely do not put yourself in any danger trying to snap pictures while driving or in the middle of a busy road.
“Remember that with any claim, accuracy counts,” Harris said, adding that many claims are rejected because they occur outside of city limits.
If the city does reject your claim, you can go to small claim courts and file your documentation with the courts.