ATLANTA — If your car is damaged on a state-maintained road you can file a claim asking them to pay for repairs.
But Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray learned the majority of those claims are denied.
Channel 2 Action News made an open records request for state claims data after Gray started hearing similar complaints from metro Atlanta drivers asking for help.
Tabitha Boyce told Gray her car was damaged by a pothole in August on Interstate 285 southbound at Camp Creek Parkway.
“I just hit a big hole and my car completely went into the hole,” Boyce said.
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Kimberly Wallace said her car hit a pothole on I-285 too, but near Chamblee Dunwoody Road last June.
“It’s a big, gigantic hole in the highway. I mean, big, huge,” Wallace said.
Both women suffered thousands of dollars in damages to their cars, and both did what the state of Georgia advises on its website-- filed liability claims with the state for those damages.
Both women also contacted Channel 2 Action News after their claims were denied.
“It’s a shame that I even had to call you. It is a pitiful shame,” Wallace said.
In Boyce’s case, she even got the claims worker on the phone to ask about that.
“He stated that he had 60 other claims for that pothole on his desk that he was working on and that they all had been denied it,” Boyce said. “Situations where there’s extreme damage and it’s multiple people, I just don’t think you can ignore it.”
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That’s when Channel 2 Action News started investigating how often the state pays up.
An open records request for a year’s worth of claims data from the Georgia Department of Administrative Services revealed the state paid out only about 30% of claims made about Georgia roads.
Out of 1,486 total closed claims, the state paid in only 378 cases. In those complaints, drivers mentioned potholes nearly 700 times.
Attorney Bruce Hagen is an attorney who has taken a particular interest in potholes since he often represents bicyclists who’ve been hurt on the roads.
Hagen told Gray that state officials know it’s really complicated and difficult to win a court challenge in these types of cases even with the help of an attorney.
“The DOAS has no incentive to pay your claim. And if they deny it, your only recourse is to file a lawsuit. The state does not feel like they have any real worry that you’re going to succeed in that sort of a case,” Hagen said. “Their attitude is ‘go ahead and sue us. We’re the state, we always win.’”
Hagen and Channel 2 consumer advisor Clark Howard said the only way to fight a claim denial outside of court is with your local lawmaker. They said to call your state representative’s constituent service office and ask for help.
Boyce said she thought this was so clearly a case of negligence by the state that filing the claim would just be a formality.
“It was something that they had to be aware of. They just hadn’t done anything about it,” Boyce said.
For weeks, Channel 2 Action News asked a spokesperson from the Georgia Department of Administrative Services to do an on-camera interview about the claims process. They would not agree to an on-camera but did send an on-the-record statement giving instructions on the claims process:
“Visit the Department of Administrative Services or the Georgia Department of Transportation to file a claim within one year from when the incident occurred. Please submit photos, the location of the incident, a police report if filed, a copy of the invoice, and any additional supporting documents. If you see a pothole or other road issue, please help us make our roads safer by calling 511 to report it.”
Boyce and Wallace said filing the claim was not the hard part.
“They make up any kind of excuse not to pay you. And it’s not right. It’s not fair to the people,” Wallace said.
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