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News4 Investigates: Will the state pay for your repairs if your car is damaged by a pothole?


News4 Investigates asked the Department of Treasury for the number of state negligence claims filed and approved and the amount paid to Tennesseans.
Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 6:36 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 10, 2022 at 6:53 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - It’s not a stretch to say that the recent weather has made roads around town tough to navigate. News4′s showed you drivers pulled over on the highway after getting flats from potholes and TDOT trucks working to path and repair roadways for weeks.

Tennessee does allow for drivers to file for a damage claim over potholes and other road debris, but just how many of those result in payouts?

News4 Investigates asked the Department of Treasury for the number of state negligence claims filed and approved and the amount paid to Tennesseans for the past three fiscal years tied to potholes.

The Tennessee Department of Treasury released these numbers. The amount listed below is unaudited.

YearNumber FiledNumber ApprovedAmount
FY191,27111$8,556.01
FY201,0357$3,274.32
FY211,61117$8,540.63

News4 Investigates crunched the numbers and discovered that the number shows approximately 1% of claims filed each year are approved.

Gallatin resident Greg Bumb was not in that 1%. He claims that he has all the documents needed for his case. Bumb never thought he’d be fighting with the Tennessee Department of Transportation for over a year.

“I think it’s totally unfair and ridiculous the way it’s set up,” Bumb said.

The focus of his fight is a $5,880.00 bill to fix his car after hitting a pothole on US-70 on the Rachel Lane overpass. The hit, Bumb claims, left all four times and rims damaged.

Bumb filed a negligence claim against the state, but it got denied. The rejection letter said in part, “There is no evidence to indicate that the state had prior knowledge of the hazardous condition or sufficient resources and time, prior to your incident, to take corrective action. The statute requires that prior knowledge of the hazardous condition is necessary to establish negligence on the part of the state as the proximate/legal cause of the damages.”

“They must’ve known something,” Bumb said.

Convinced that they did, Bumb appealed. This time, Bumb says he presented google satellite images, which Bumb claims showed the hole was forming before he hit it.

“On the google satellite, you can see the hole on Rachel Lane’s overpass from space,” Bumb said

But Bumb was denied again. Bumb said he got even more documentation to fight his case, using google street view.

“And you could see on google street view where they take a vehicle with a camera on it. You can see the holes, how they don’t repair them and how long it takes in between,” Bumb said.

Bumb is an engineer and says he also consulted with colleagues in the engineering field. However, the night before his January hearing, Bumb received a motion from the state, calling his new evidence in part “Irrelevant, lacking the proper foundation and hearsay.”

“I’m having trouble fighting out whether they don’t have much money to fix the roads or if they just have a bad attitude,” Bumb said

News4 Investigates sat down with the Department of Treasury to explain the process. While it’s TDOT’s job to fix potholes, the TN Department of Treasury processes the claims.

“Tennessee is one of just a few states that even allows individuals to receive compensation due to negligence on behalf of the state,” Shelli King, Director of Communications with the TN Department of Treasury said.

Kin said she wants the public to understand one thing, and there’s no such thing as a pothole reimbursement fund. To file a claim against the state, King says that you have to prove the state was negligent.

“You would have to be able to show that the state agency in question knew about the problem or should have seen for foreseeability of the risk of the problem,” King said.

King said the Treasury Department processes claims against the state, everything from a slip and fall on the state capitol steps to water intrusion in Neyland Stadium.

News4 Investigates questioned the state asking how residents can tell or determine if a state knows if the state is aware of the problem.

“Again, we’re talking about a lot of different types of claims. In the instance of a road nuisance, I would talk to the state agency involved, meaning TDOT,” King said.

News4 emailed TDOT. Their spokesperson said they do not have a public system to find that information, but they are happy to provide what people need if they request it.

The issue is why Representative Dan Howell is looking for a solution that will help both the state departments and drivers moving forward.

“We’re trying to create a system where they can more easily file the claim,” Howell said.

Howell is Chairman of the House Transportation Committee. He hears both drivers’ complaints and the challenges TDOT and the Department of Treasury face.

“Let’s be realistic, TDOT only has so many employees…statewide..we have thousands and thousands and thousands of miles of roadways in the state of Tennessee,” Howell said. “There’s no way that TDOT can traverse those roads on a daily basis --looking for potholes. They just don’t have the personnel.”

It’s why he presented a bill Wednesday that will allow TDOT and the treasury department to create a better reporting and communications system between themselves and drivers who may have had their vehicles damaged because of a road hazard like a pothole.

The bill received bipartisan support in the subcommittee. It will now move on to the entire finance committee.

“So this hopefully will help us create an awareness on the part of the public, that hey--it’s your responsibility to let TDOT know that there’s a road hazard on mile marker 20 of whatever interstate they might be driving and call this in,” Howell said. “If you hit that pothole damage your tire --then we’re going to give it some attention and go out and fix it and hopefully settle your claim.”

Bumb’s last hearing took place in January. He was denied again.

“Their argument is that they didn’t get enough notice! Four days of notice --somebody else hit it and reported it. And then I hit it four days later,” Bumb said.

Bumb said he was more than prepared for this fight, a fight he ultimately lost. With potholes still existing across the state, he’s worried about the next driver and them not having the means to fight back.

“It’s not just me. There are a lot of people out there that are getting hurt,” Bumb said.

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