If a faulty road damages your car, county might pay


August 05, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IF THERE'S ANYTHING to really appreciate about Maryland's county governments, it's that most of them seem ready to put their money where their mouths are - or, at least, where our tires hit their pavement.

A little known fact is that if your vehicle is damaged because of an uncorrected problem on the roadway, it is possible to submit a claim for reimbursement, as long as certain conditions are met.

Confession: I didn't know anything about this policy until I began researching the topic in response to an e-mail Karen Zimmerman sent me.

"Can you please advise me as to whom I may contact in regards to damage to my vehicle because of a very bad pothole on Warren Road in Cockeysville, MD? I have been told that I can send the photos and the invoices for repairs to the county or state and see about being reimbursed all or partially for the damage," she said. Ms. Zimmerman noted that the damage to her vehicle included a bent front tire rim and missing hubcaps on the passenger side.

Because Warren Road is in Baltimore County, I called its Department of Public Works, which landed me the telephone number of Lisa Peffers, manager of the liabilities department. I passed this number on to Ms. Zimmerman. Meanwhile, I wondered what Howard County's policy was.

Here's what I learned: If you drive over a pothole or some other adverse condition on a county road that causes damage to your vehicle, call the Howard County Bureau of Highways at 410-313-7450, said Lynne Levin, risk management administrator. The complaint will be checked against a database to determine whether it's the first report to the bureau about it. If so, you're out of luck.

"The responsibility for damages is based on whether we're negligent - if we've received notice of the problem but didn't respond to correct it," Levin said. "If it's our first notice of the problem, then we've had no opportunity to correct it." She noted that the county receives an estimated 10 claims a year, but she wasn't able to say how many have been reimbursed.

If it looks as if there is a valid claim, you will need to provide in writing specific details, such as what type of damage was done and where the pothole was.

"We generally take people at their word," Levin said. "But we need to verify the details, and the damage would have to be in keeping with what might happen - a tire or rim damage for a pothole."

Although I never heard directly from representatives from Baltimore County myself (despite several calls), Ms. Zimmerman brought me up to date on what's happening with her claim.

"I did talk to Lisa Peffers yesterday afternoon," she said. "She stated that she will put in a claim, but the only way the claim would have a basis for payout would be what you had been told by Howard County - the spot had previously been reported and either they [the state or county] did not fix it when they had time." She was also told she would receive forms in the mail to fill out and return. At this point, it's a waiting game for her.

If you notice a pothole on a county road - even if you haven't driven through it and damaged your vehicle - call the Howard County Bureau of Highways at 410-313-7450 so that workers can take care of it right away.

"Our highways people work hard and don't always receive the appreciation they deserve," Levin said. "We don't get many claims because we do take good care of our roads. When we do hear of a problem, our highways people respond very quickly. We have people on call to respond as soon as possible."

Since we're on the topic of Howard County folks doing good things for us, here's something I received July 28 from Roger Windsor, who was satisfied with road-maintenance services recently provided by the Howard Department of Public Works.

"Thanks for the information on which agency to contact for highway and related problems in Howard County [Traffic Talk, July 22]. In my neighborhood (Dunloggin in Ellicott City) there was a vexing problem with `junk trees' growing at the junction of two streets. These trees were blocking the line of sight of traffic attempting to cross this intersection. Following your directions I called the appropriate agency ... after reading your column and by [July 24] the matter had been corrected by the county. Kudos to the county government for [its] prompt response and to you for providing excellent information," he said.

Thank you, Mr. Windsor. I'm glad the column was helpful. I also forwarded your e-mail to the folks at Howard's Public Works Department. I'm sure they also appreciate being appreciated. By the way, this is how government is supposed to work: We see a problem, we let government know about it, it figures out the best way to fix it, and then it does. Good job, everyone.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044.

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