Who Pays for Damages Caused by a Pothole in Colorado?
Most potholes are the responsibility of a government agency. That can make it a little more complicated if you need to file a lawsuit for a Colorado pothole injury.
For most drivers, a pothole in the road is an inconvenience. You might try to swerve to avoid it, but sometimes, hitting a pothole is unavoidable. Many drivers don’t realize (until it happens to them) that a pothole—a crack or dent in the road—can cause an accident that results in serious injuries.
You might already know that Colorado is an at-fault state. That means that if you’re involved in an accident, you must file a claim against the person or entity that caused the accident in order to recover damages for your injuries.
That works fine if the accident is between you and another driver—but how do you make a claim against a pothole?
This article will explain what to do, how to make a claim, and who could be responsible for paying for your injuries caused by a Colorado pothole accident.
What causes a pothole to form?
An early spring freeze-thaw cycle is one of the main catalysts for pothole development.
When groundwater freezes, it fills space under the pavement. The pavement will expand, bend and crack, which weakens the road surface. When the ice melts, the pavement contracts, which leaves gaps beneath the surface.
This cycle weakens the pavement and causes it to continue to crack. The weight of vehicles passing above causes further breakage, often resulting in potholes. A typical pothole can be between 2 and 6 inches deep.
Who’s responsible for fixing potholes in Colorado?
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and other municipal agencies work hard to repair potholes, but there’s no way to prevent them from forming. According to CDOT, it spends a few million dollars every year on pothole repairs across the state.
CDOT and other government agencies responsible for road maintenance across the U.S. typically rely on a strategy called “pothole patching,” in which workers fill potholes with asphalt or cold patch material and cover them with gravel to prevent further damage.
This works—temporarily. But when there’s heavy rain or snow, the loose gravel can wash away and expose the hole. Short of tearing up and replacing entire stretches of road, there’s no permanent solution to fixing potholes.
Potholes can lead to serious property damage and injuries
The consequences of hitting a pothole can be devastating. Potholes are associated with severe injuries and even death and can affect not only drivers in cars but motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians as well.
The greatest number of accidents and severe injuries occur when a car hits a pothole at high speed, causing its tire to blow out and the driver to lose control of the car.
When this happens, there can be serious damage to the driver’s car, especially if a rollover accident occurs. These types of accidents often result in catastrophic injuries to drivers, passengers and pedestrians in harm’s way.
Is CDOT liable for a pothole accident?
CDOT is responsible for the maintenance of interstates and state highways in Colorado. It’s the obligation of local municipal governments to maintain other roads.
There are usually 2 ways a government agency becomes aware of potholes or other road maintenance issues:
- Reports by concerned residents or road users, or
- Regular surveys of the roadways as part of routine maintenance.
It is reasonable to assume that if the agency repairs a pothole, the road surface should not cause accidents once fixed.
However, because of the vast number of potholes that surface in Colorado every year, it would be unreasonable to expect these agencies to keep every pothole perfectly smooth and filled around the clock.
In personal injury law, you can file a lawsuit if a defendant was negligent, meaning that their action (or inaction) was different from what would be expected of a reasonable person in the same or similar situation. If that action is the direct cause of an injury that costs a plaintiff money, then the plaintiff could file a lawsuit to recover damages.
An agency could be negligent if:
- It was aware of the pothole, or should have reasonably been aware; or
- It did not repair the pothole within a reasonable amount of time.
Aside from residents or road users reporting potholes to the agency charged with their repair, the other way a government is put on notice that there’s a hazardous condition is if it has already caused at least one accident.
What to do if you’re injured in a pothole accident
In order to ensure your rights are protected, it’s important to know what to do immediately after a car accident.
The first thing you should do after an accident is call the police so you’ll have an official record of your accident. It’s always a good idea to obtain an accident report at the scene of any accident, even if it involves a single vehicle (and a pothole).
This report will include an account of how the accident likely occurred, weather and road conditions, quality of light/visibility and witness statements, if available, which can be crucial evidence in proving liability in a personal injury case.
In addition to an accident report, photos of the pothole at the time of the accident can be very helpful in making your case—as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. If you’re able to take photos of weather conditions, the pothole itself, and damage to your car, those could be worthwhile pieces of evidence.
Also, it’s worth taking the contact information of any person who might have witnessed the accident. Yes, it should be fairly straightforward that a car has hit a pothole, but if there are questions about how the car approached, its perceived speed, or the aftermath, a witness statement might be useful.
Finally, you might inquire about whether there were any surveillance cameras that captured the incident on video. If the accident happened near a business, in a parking lot, or in a residential area, there’s a good possibility that someone has footage. Even many homes have security cameras these days, and it could be worthwhile to ask nearby homeowners if their security systems captured the accident.
Next, seek a medical exam. You can visit your nearest emergency department, urgent care or your own physician—but do it right away. If you have physical injuries related to the accident, it’s important that your medical chart reflects that information. It will be difficult later on to link a physical injury or condition to the pothole accident if you don’t have it documented immediately.
Finally, seek the assistance of a Colorado personal injury lawyer. Your attorney can gather evidence and obtain expert witnesses to prove that your injuries were caused by a pothole or defective road condition.
A claim against a government agency works differently than a claim against a private person or business. Your lawyer is the best person to navigate that process on your behalf.
Claims against Colorado government agencies (aka “government immunity”)
In general, a person may not file a lawsuit against a Colorado government entity. However, there are exceptions to this statutory immunity.
It’s possible to file a lawsuit against a Colorado government agency for injuries that result from situations that include:
- A dangerous condition at a public facility or on public highways, roads or streets
- Negligent operation of a vehicle by a government employee on official business
This means that a government agency could be in breach of its responsibility if it failed to remedy or repair potholes.
Once your lawyer has determined that your injuries are the result of a pothole that was a government agency’s responsibility, there are specific steps that must be taken and deadlines that must be followed, so you’ll want to consult a personal injury attorney with experience in cases dealing with government entities to ensure you don’t miss your chance to be compensated.
Contact a Colorado personal injury attorney
Even though a pothole is “just” a hole in the ground, it can certainly cause big problems. These cases can be complex, both from proving that your injuries were caused by the pothole to dealing with a claim against a government entity.