LUMBERTON — Motorists should be careful on the roadways in Lumberton and Robeson County because the cost of vehicle damages caused by potholes or road defects could fall on their shoulders.
Lumberton resident Deborah Hester felt the weight of that fact after her vehicle was damaged on March 5 by what she described as a “crater” on Pinedale Boulevard in Lumberton. Her 2013 Dodge Dart suffered damages to its oil pan, draining all the oil from the vehicle, and to its struts, shocks and motor, according to Hester.
“I called the city the same day it happened,” Hester said.
She asked the city for help in paying the cost of repairing the damages, the amount of which was not disclosed to The Robesonian. Hester even filed a police report. Weeks later, she received a letter from the city’s insurance adjuster, Tokio Marine HCC – Public Risk Group, informing her the city was not liable because it did not have “prior notice of the hole” in that location.
“I’m not bashing the city,” Hester said.
Hester got help paying for the repairs from her insurance agency.
Since the incident, the hole has been repaired. However, the Lumberton resident wishes things had gone differently, and that the city would have helped fix her vehicle.
“This is not fair to me or anyone else who may have this same problem. As a taxpayer I should have received better treatment from (the) city,” she said in a written statement.
Insurance agencies often “play a large role in making these determinations” and the city also abides by state laws that are strict on motorists, according to Lumberton City Attorney Holt Moore III.
“North Carolina has what is called ‘strict liability,’ which means that if the person making the claim had any responsibility for what happened, they cannot recover. So, for instance, if a person should have seen the defect, and could have avoided it, or if they traveled that road every day and should have seen it before, they may not legally be able to recover,” Moore said in a statement.
Moore also said these cases are handled on a case-by-case basis and “negligence” is an “overarching concept” when determinations are made.
“When someone brings a claim the analysis is whether we were negligent in the item, in this case an alleged ‘large crater,’ being there, and if so whether that negligence directly caused the damage,” he said.
“We have miles and miles of streets to maintain, and on any given case, it may or may not have been negligent, depending on things like how obvious it was, how long it had been there, whether anyone informed us of it, and whether the person bringing the claim had some role in the damage, and things like that,” Moore added.
Lumberton Public Works Director Rob Armstrong encourages motorists to report road defects to the department by calling 910-671-3851. Motorists who experience a situation like Hester’s should contact the city and file a claim.
“Don’t wait, do it the same day,” Hester said. “Don’t be afraid to turn it in and call the city.”
She also spoke of the importance of collision coverage insurance, which can help motorists in the situation.
County roads are similar, and motorists should report defects to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, according to Andrew Barksdale, NCDOT Public Relations officer.
Property damages claims from state-maintained roads can be filed online at https://www.ncdot.gov/contact/Pages/claims.aspx. Forms must be sent to NCDOT offices in the county in which the incident occurred.
“Once your form is received at the local office, if the incident is related to work that is done by an NCDOT crew, such as pothole repairs, NCDOT staff will review it and fill out a report as well. They will both be sent to the Attorney General’s office, which rules on the claim,” according to NCDOT.
“In claims of damage from such items as potholes, roadway debris and similar issues, the Attorney General’s Office will be determining if the NCDOT knew about the issue in question and did not make an effort within a reasonable length of time to repair the problem. If it did not (know), then it wouldn’t be held accountable for the damages,” according to NCDOT.
Motorists can appeal the decision to N.C. Industrial Commission if their claims are rejected. The Attorney General’s Office can provide information, such as contacts, to help guide them through the process.
If the incident occurred in a work zone, the local NCDOT office will send claims to the contractor, according to the NCDOT.
“Under the terms of our contracts, it is the contractor who is responsible for possible reimbursement for damage that takes place within the work zone. In cases of road debris, the state Attorney General will be determining if the NCDOT knew about it and didn’t make an effort to remove the object from the road. Essentially, it would not be held responsible for something it didn’t know about,” the NCDOT statement reads in part.