Car repair bills, claims against MnDOT for pothole damage multiply, but few pay out

Car repair bills, claims against MnDOT for pothole damage multiply, but few pay out

Car repair bills, claims against MnDOT for pothole damage multiply, but few pay out

In a year with far more potholes than usual, more drivers are paying repair bills for cars after hitting them, multiplying the number of damage claims filed against the Minnesota Department of Transportation. But for the majority of drivers, those claims are not resulting in reimbursement.

Magdalena Franco, a Bloomington teacher who lives in West St. Paul, relies on her sedan to get her from home to work and back, which is a roughly 35-mile round trip every day.

“I spend money taking care of this vehicle,” Franco said, showing 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS her silver Mazda 3 Sunday. “The brakes need to be good, tires need to be good, everything.”

A form from the auto repair shop showed the car got a full inspection on Feb. 18 and required no maintenance or repairs.

A month later, Franco said she hit a pothole while changing lanes on Interstate 494 to exit near France Avenue. It was dark and the traffic was heavy, she said.

“There was a ‘clank, clank, clank, clank’ when I was driving,” Franco said. “And I thought, ‘OK, well something is broken.'”

Within the week, Franco filed a tort claim with MnDOT in hopes of getting reimbursed for the unexpected bill, which totaled $1,205.81 for four new parts.

She decided against reporting it to her insurance company “because I don’t want my car insurance to go up.”

“You know, monthly payments go up very quickly,” Franco added. “And, you know, it’s not my fault.”

Instead, she filed the claim and then reported the pothole to MnDOT so other drivers wouldn’t have the same fate, but the state agency denied her claim, saying it “had no knowledge of this pothole prior to [the] incident.”

It’s an unrealistic expectation, according to Franco.

“It’s a joke,” she said of the state’s requirements for approving a tort claim, adding she first discovered the pothole by hitting it, which immediately damaged her car.

“Who is going to report, you know, the pothole before people get into accidents there?” Franco said.

Tort claims tripled from 140 in 2022 to at least 400 in 2023 so far, MnDOT communications and public engagement director Jake Loesch said Sunday.

MnDOT hasn’t yet calculated the number of claims that have ended in reimbursement this year, but last year, just eight out of 140 claims resulted in drivers getting their money back.

Asked why the program is rarely reimbursing drivers, Loesch said, “Well, it does pay out, right? I mean, it may not pay out as often as people would like, and we can absolutely understand that. That’s frustrating.”

“The other thing I would add, too, like, it’s not lost on us that this is really frustrating for drivers, right? We understand it,” Loesch said. “And as MnDOT employees, we use the same roads as everyone else. And I’ve hit potholes myself.”

Whether a driver is reimbursed comes down to state law, Loesch said: “MnDOT may be negligent only if MnDOT had prior notice of the condition and a reasonable period of time to repair or warn of the condition.”

Altering the requirements for reimbursement would require altering Minnesota negligence law, Loesch said.

“And I’m not aware of anything right now being discussed at the Legislature to that effect,” he said. “But yeah, that would be a question for the people who are making laws.”

“Everywhere is bad,” Franco said, referring to the “pothole problem.”

“And all the money that the state of Minnesota, you know, is claiming to have, and they’re not concerned about the potholes, you know, and they don’t care if drivers they hit potholes, damage their vehicles. They need to be concerned about this,” Franco said.

Tort claims can only be approved by MnDOT for damage caused on state-maintained highways and rights-of-way and must be filed within 180 days of the damage.