FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — The state of Georgia is overturning more than a dozen denied damage claims and changing its internal systems for reviewing claims in the future after issues were exposed in a Channel 2 Action News investigation.
State officials credit our reporting for alerting them to “new information” on the claims and exposing gaps in their current systems.
“I’m just extremely grateful to you and your team for putting light on this,” Smyrna resident Nichelle Brown told Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Justin Gray.
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Brown just received a nearly $15,000 check from the state of Georgia.
It has been months since the claim she submitted for damage to her car by a pothole on Interstate 285 near Camp Creek Parkway was denied.
“It feels good that they were made to be accountable,” Brown said.
Brown first reached out to Channel 2 Action News and talked about her claim denial on television in March after seeing our February investigation into the claims process.
If your car is damaged on a state-maintained road you can file a claim asking them to pay for repairs.
But 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.
An open records request for a year’s worth of claims data from the Georgia Department of Administrative Services (DOAS) revealed the state paid out only about 30% of claims made about Georgia roads.
Out of 1,261 total closed claims, the state paid in only 378 cases.
In those complaints, drivers mentioned potholes nearly 700 times.
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Attorney Bruce Hagen 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.’”
Brown called us because she had hit the same pothole near Camp Creek Parkway that a woman in our original story, Tabitha Boyce did.
Nichelle Brown and Tabitha Boyce received the same denial explanation from the state when their cars were both damaged on the same day at I-285 near Camp Creek Parkway.
They were told that DOT had no prior notice of the road hazard.
“It was something that they had to be aware of. They just hadn’t done anything about it,” Boyce said.
But our Channel 2 Action News reporting found from state records that there was prior knowledge.
Two days before the accidents a customer reported “a huge three-foot pothole”.
Another woman reported that her son hit the “famous pothole” and that the 911 dispatcher stated that she had reported the pothole several times and couldn’t believe it was not fixed.
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Now, citing our Channel 2 investigations, the state has reversed their denials for Tabitha Boyce, Nichelle Brown, and a total of 13 people who hit that same pothole.
The State Department of Administrative Services told us in a statement, “After receiving new information through the open records response to your office, DOAS, working with the Department of Transportation (GDOT), determined that the claims should be reevaluated and expenses attributable to the pothole incident should be approved for payment.”
“The thing that does concern me is what about what happens the next time this happens? You know, are they going to change their processes within the state to ensure that they do a thorough investigation?” Brown said.
And there’s good news there too.
State officials say our reporting opened their eyes to gaps in the current claim process that they are now looking to improve.
DOAS told us by email, “GDOT was already in the process of identifying an updated risk management system, and the DOAS risk management team is working with them on this effort with the hope that we will achieve improvement in data management for the evaluation of claims in the future.”
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