In the 14th century, the word 'pothole' described a deep hole used for mining. In later years, the meaning of the word changed, becoming the name for geological features in glaciers and gravel beds. It wasn't until the 20th century that we began to use the term for describing the holes in our roads. At that time, there were less than a thousand cars on the UK's roads. Today that figure's around 32 million, and the combination of more traffic and poor road maintenance is making potholes a much more frequent occurrence on our roads.
Potholes are estimated to cause as many as 1 in 10 mechanical failures, costing motorists an estimated £730 million every year. Authorities pay out more than £30 million a year in compensation because of them, so it's possible to claim for the damage they've caused.
As local councils are responsible for 90% of Britain's roads, it's likely any claim will be against them, but if the incident occurs on an A road or motorway you'll need to contact the Highways Agency.
In all cases, it's best to start by getting evidence. To show the road's been poorly maintained, take photos of the pothole and its position in relation to the whole road and traffic flow. If it's safe to do so, use a tape measure or another object in the picture to show the hole's size and depth.
If you have comprehensive car insurance you'll be able to claim for any damage, but you'll have to pay your excess. It will also affect your no claims discount if it's not protected, or your insurer can't claim back their costs from the authority responsible, so you may prefer to pursue a claim yourself.
To do this, submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the council to find out how regularly the road's inspected and what maintenance has been done. You can find out more details about this, including an online form.
You'll also need to keep a careful record of all your costs so you know how much to claim back. Be as accurate as you can, because you can't claim back more than the costs you've incurred.
Once you've done this, write to the council giving detailed information about the incident and damage. The council might not accept your claim straightaway, but if you feel you've got a good case don't give up, you can challenge their response. If that fails, consider seeking independent legal advice before deciding to make a claim through the courts.
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