Less than 4% of Bay Area Caltrans pothole, other damage claims approved in recent years: data

ByMelanie Woodrow, Lindsey Feingold, and Grace Manthey KGO logo
Friday, January 26, 2024
Less than 4% of Bay Area Caltrans claims approved last few years: data
Less than 4% of Caltrans pothole and other damage claims filed by Bay Area drivers have been approved in recent years, according to data.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Claims filed by Bay Area drivers with Caltrans for damage to vehicles caused by potholes and other road conditions were approved less than 4% of the time between 2020 and mid-2023, according to data obtained and analyzed by the ABC7 data journalism team.

During that time period, 177 Bay Area claims under $10,000 were approved and 4,803 were denied. For the first half of 2023, less than 1% of claims have been approved so far, although many are still pending.

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On July 8, 2019, Simon Harrison, a former Bay Area resident, said a pothole on i-680 caused more than $1,000 worth of damage to his brand new MINI.

"I basically saw a large lump of concrete fly out of the road as the car went over it, heading towards my brand-new car," Harrison said. "Basically it hit my front wheel as I managed to swerve and try and avoid it, basically ripping the tire apart and damaging the rim. It was loud, it was like a huge crash under the car."

He wasn't the only person to file a claim with Caltrans for the damage that day.

"Multiple cars had been hit that morning," he said. "We were about eight of us pulled over with the CHP writing up reports as the road was just disintegrating at that point."

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But on Sept. 10, he received a letter from Caltrans. The department rejected his claim.

"How did I feel? I think frustrated," said Harrison. "This is bureaucracy at its finest."

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"People have a right to make a claim if they feel that something in the road or Caltrans-related cost them some harm or some cost," said Hector Chinchilla, public information oficer for Caltrans.

Claims for damage to vehicles caused by potholes spiked in 2023, and have steadily increased over the last few years. In 2023, 90.3% of claims in the Bay Area under $10,000 mentioned potholes.

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"What we definitely saw last year was historic rains," said Chinchilla.

Caltrans invites drivers to apply for reimbursement if a pothole damages your car on a state road. But, Chinchilla said, "going through our process is not only a courtesy to the public but to our court system."

MORE: Pothole damage to your vehicle? Caltrans program may reimburse you up to $10,000

Harrison's rejection letter stated he had six months to file a court action on the claim. When he called Caltrans, he said the department discouraged from filing in small claims court and told him a judge would rule in Caltrans' favor.

"I cannot speak to the claims office and what they told him, but again they still have the right to follow that process if they want to," said Chinchilla.

But not many people do. Caltrans said in 2022, District 4 received approximately 1,028 claims. Of those, nine people pursued their case in small claims court and two won their case.

ABC7 News asked Caltrans why Harrison's claim was denied. Caltrans said it does not comment on specific cases.

MORE: Potholes: What's causing them, and the science that could make roads more durable

"It really doesn't surprise me that they would deny the claims, they are the adjudicator for their own claims, that cannot be a good thing," said Harrison.

"We have to trust the process that is being done fairly," Chinchilla said.

When asked about why people do not trust the current process, Chinchilla added, "If you don't agree with the decision that Caltrans' claim department made, you're able to take it to small claims and have it be heard under a judge."

Ultimately, Harrison paid out-of-pocket to repair his own car.

"And that was that. Thank you Caltrans," Harrison said.

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