Filing a claim for pothole-related damage to vehicles in Los Angeles was long considered a tedious and usually futile effort. Now, the City Attorney's office is making serious changes after an I-Team investigation exposed the unfair system last year. Joel Grover reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
In direct response to an NBC4 I-Team report, payouts from the city of Los Angeles have more than tripled to drivers whose cars were damaged by the thousands of potholes on city streets. And the payouts are coming a lot quicker than in years past.
It was in October 2013 that the I-Team revealed how less than 1 in 10 drivers who filed claims with the city for pothole damage received any kind of payment.
“You brought this to our attention,” LA City Attorney Mike Feuer, who office handles all claims, told NBC4. “It enabled us to change a system.”
It’s city policy to reimburse a driver for pothole damage, if the city had received complaints or knew about the pothole.
But the I-Team investigation last October revealed how City Attorney’s investigators tossed out most valid claims without paying them, or when they did reimburse a driver for damage, it could take months or even years.
Nicole Swain finally received a $411 check from LA to reimburse her for a tire that punctured when she drove over a pothole on Aviation Boulevard two years ago.
“My claim was 100 percent legitimate, and I shouldn’t have had to wait two years,” Swain told NBC4.
After watching the I-Team’s October report, Feuer vowed to quickly improve the system for handling pothole claims.
“What we have done is to create a system that makes the city much more responsive to our residents when it comes to these claims,” Feuer told NBC4.
Until recently, when City Attorney’s investigators were researching pothole claims, they used regular snail mail to request proof of a pothole from the Bureau of Street Services (BSS). Often months later, BSS mailed back proof of a pothole to the investigators. The whole process admittedly dragged on for months.
Now, the Bureau of Street Services emails an updated list of all potholes in LA to the City Attorney every two weeks. The City Attorney said this electronic sharing of pothole information allows his investigators to process claims in minutes, instead of months.
“This is not a heroic step we are taking to change the system. This is what our residents deserve,” Feuer said.
And the new system seems to be working for residents like Wanda LaMar, who damaged a tire last August when she drove over a pothole on Wilcox Street.
“My whole tire went inside the pothole,” LaMar said.
Under the new system, LaMar filed a claim for reimbursement for the damaged tire and received a check from the city for $193.75 in just under five months.
“Believe it or not, I thought it was going to be a year,” LaMar told NBC4.
In the four months since the I-Team investigation, with the new claims system in place, the number of pothole claims paid by LA is up 356 percent, compared to the same period before the investigation.
“This is what our residents deserve,” Feuer said. “This is how we should be doing our job.”
If you want to file a claim for damage to your car caused by a pothole, click here.