MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota Department of Transportation is bracing for more claims this year caused by damage from potholes, but WCCO found it’s difficult to get a claim paid through the system.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates drivers spend $542 a year from driving on roads in need of repair. WCCO found out when MnDOT takes responsibility for pothole-inflicted damage.

Spring can make for a bumpy ride. It’s what Minnesotans affectionately call pothole season, but striking a big one can be costly.

“I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t slow down because there’s no shoulder at the time. You have to keep going and I’m just cringing every bump – pow, pow, pow – and I’m almost in tears,” James Paschal said.

Paschal went back to take video of the potholes he hit on Interstate 94 near Brooklyn Center. He said construction forced drivers to use the right lane and the shoulder was full of potholes.

“My wheels were destroyed. Literally, there were chunks of rubber out of my tires,” Paschal said.

Danielle Selbitschka’s driver’s side rim was bent and her tire went flat when she hit a pothole on another stretch of I-94.

“It was the biggest pothole. You know when you’re driving and you hit something and you immediately turn your radio down and ‘oh crap.’ It was huge, I knew something was wrong the moment I hit it,” Selbitschka said.

A new tire and rim set her back $500 plus.

“It is a lot of money. It’s like a check for me,” Selbitschka said.

Both Danielle and James submitted claims to MnDOT and both got paid, but that’s unusual. WCCO reviewed two years of data and learned in the last two years, the state reimbursed fewer than 30 drivers for pothole damage – that’s roughly 15% of claims. More than a hundred more: Denied.

“The tricks are I guess to not be the first one to hit it, it sounds like,” Selbitschka said.

If you’re the first to report a pothole, you’re out of luck, but you probably helped the next driver. MnDOT says in order to have a valid claim, it has to have had a reasonable amount of time to fix a pothole after learning about it – that’s typically 24 to 48 hours.

“A key element in this is how much time did we have when we were notified to actually fix the pothole,” said Kevin Gutknecht, with MnDOT.

Gutknecht said workers monitor potholes on the road and in the office. They rely on drivers to report, too. If there’s negligence on MnDOT’s end, it could be liable.

“There’s a likelihood that we will pay it if we did not get it repaired in time and we had adequate notice and sometimes that happens,” Gutknecht said.

To file a claim, the damage must happen on a state highway. It can be done online or by phone within 180 days.

“I think mine got paid because there were several people that hit it before me,” Selbitschka said.

It took three months, but Selbitschka did get reimbursed for what she shelled out for repairs. Paschal’s claim took longer and required persistence on his part – repeated calls and visits to the MnDOT office – to get partial payment.

“Definitely follow up, definitely stay on the people because if not they’ll give you that no. I didn’t take that no,” Paschal said.

In St. Paul, you’re encouraged to file a claim for pothole damage. Once you go to the website, you’ll have to print out a Notice of Claim form and then mail it to the city clerk. We learned the city only reimbursed 3% of drivers over the last two years. More information on how to report a pothole in St. Paul can be found on the city website. You can also call 651-266-9700 or email potholes@ci.stpaul.mn.us.

You can also file a claim in Minneapolis. Call 612-673-2969 or print out a claim form and return it to the risk management, claims office. The city has yet to provide the pothole reimbursement data WCCO requested two months ago. Potholes in Minneapolis can be reported online.

The pothole damage process is available online. Contact the district traffic engineer in each outstate district or the metro district tort claims engineer for the metro area. Click on your area on the map on the left-hand side of the website for contact information.

There are also two tort claims specialists that can help with general information – Tort Claims and Standards Engineer Janelle Anderson at janelle.anderson@state.mn.us or 651-234-7388 and Tort Claims Specialist Jolene Servatius at jolene.servatius@state.mn.us or 651-234-7378. After connecting with someone at MnDOT, they will mail a form to be returned and then the investigative process begins.

The state asks you to report potholes online. The state will need the time and location where the damage occurred and the allegations.

Jennifer Mayerle

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