A Road Warrior reader sent in this photo after an encounter last month with a
pothole on Laughlin Road. It bent her tire rim and put a hole in the sidewall,
forcing her to buy a new tire. Click to enlarge.

Hit a pothole and damaged your car? You can file a claim with the county, but chances are you’ll still wind up paying for the repairs.

Sonoma County spokesman Jim Leddy said the county “very rarely” pays to fix someone’s car after it’s been damaged in an encounter with a pothole.

He explained that the threshold for paying off a claim is high, basically that “we knew about the pothole and didn’t take timely action to fix it.”

In fact, the rejection letter the county sends out says the law generally “states that a public entity can only be liable for a dangerous condition if it has notice of the condition. The public entity must know that a dangerous condition exists, as it cannot be responsible for conditions that are not known. Further, once a dangerous condition is known to the public entity, the entity must have a reasonable opportunity or amount of time to resolve the problem.”

The letter goes on to say that this winter’s “unusually large amount of rain” placed “an enormous stress on the 1,382 miles of road maintained by county road personnel. We are currently setting priorities to get to the roads with the heaviest use first and then to lesser traveled roads. The county of Sonoma cannot be held liable for natural weather events that cause this type of widespread damage.”

Leddy said last week that the county had 29 claims open against it regarding potholes. In a typical bad weather year, he said, the number of claims is 50 to 60.

He said the county investigates each claim to see if it meets the threshold of payment.

But “most of the time we don’t know about (the pothole) until someone tells us about it,” Leddy said.

A Road Warrior reader who filed a pothole claim April 4 and 10 days later got a rejection letter had a mixed reaction.

“I am a little disappointed that the county can’t process a claim for $150, but at the same time I see that if this becomes precedent, a county already pressed for funds will be out a lot of money on car repairs. At the same time, I would like to see these road issues fixed,” said Anna of Santa Rosa, who asked that we just use her first name.

She hit the pothole March 30 on the “S-curve” of Laughlin Road, north of River Road. The next day her tire went flat. After a repair shop fixed her bent rim, the tire went flat again and it was then that she discovered a hole in the sidewall that couldn’t be patched. She had to buy a new tire.

If you need a claim form, call the county Board of Supervisors’ office at 565-2431.

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  1. Originalist

    This is one of the reasons that the distrust of govt in this country in general is increasing! Recently when judges broke the laws and constitution of this nation they claimed immunity from the Constitution itself.

    As the Constitution is the people document and puts limits on government authority, only the people can grant either limited immunity or authority to govt to grant immunity. THEY NEVER HAVE!

    Think of it, if judges, congress, etc are immune from the laws then we have neither a republic nor a democracy!

    IN this matter, who set the threshold and who granted them that authority? Or can govt immunize itself? The issue is, who is the authority in a republican form of govt? The people or the govt?

    April 19th, 2011 7:51 am

  2. JFindley

    Someone needs to set up a site where the location and description of dangerous potholes can be posted, and it can be documented that the county has notice. What isn’t mentioned is that, not only must the county have notice, but a claimant must prove they had notice. I suspect the county is not overly cooperative in acknowledging when they have had notice, making it hard to prove.

    April 19th, 2011 8:03 am

  3. hal

    Driving Mark West Springs Rd @ 25 mph in an RV all the way to Calistoga turn off, is un pleasant. So what if there is a mile long line of cars and few places to allow cars to pass. If that road were worse, I’d drive it even slower.

    April 19th, 2011 8:27 am

  4. Sy for Accountable Gov.

    It sounds like we need to put together a Sonoma County Accountability website that allows people to post where pot holes are and with an automated email letter that immediately gets sent to the County and then documented for date and time. I hope somebody with time on there hands could develop something like this.

    In response to the Originalist, inderectly, it is the people who set these thresholds through our elected officials. If you want to change the process, you need to vote them out of office. Although, I don’t beleive our failing infrustructure was ever a hot topic for a running official, so I don’t see much changing any time soon. There is also the initiative process, again, for someone with a lot of time on there hands.

    April 19th, 2011 8:48 am

  5. John Hudson

    Years ago, I saw a story on “60 Minutes” about lawyers who were making a map of all the potholes and other dangerous conditions on the streets of New York City. They went into considerable detail. The map was then turned in to the city so as to put the ball in the city’s court to repair the potholes or get sued. The lawyers were vilified for this. Here those lawyers seem to have found a couple of supporters.

    April 19th, 2011 8:56 am

  6. Brad

    I hit a pothole three years ago. It ruined a v 12 Mercedes that cost 150,000. new. The pothole was 24″ wide 44″long and 8″ deep. I sent pictures to the county with a level and a tape measure. After they drug it out 4 months they cited a vehicle code where they are not liable if they did not know about the pothole. I called the city of Petaluma to see what they could do. They did not do anything until I threatened to walk into the City Council Meeting and show off my pictures. In the end tyhe City fixed the county road. I was ripped off by the couant and was out of pocket $6000.00 What a crime on their part

    April 19th, 2011 9:35 am

  7. R Armstrong

    The county is going to have to set aside alot more money to pay pothole claims now that its level of road maintenece has sunk to record lows

    April 19th, 2011 9:59 am

  8. abe

    As far as night driving- there should be some correlation to the fact that the city of Santa Rosa has been shutting off half of the street lights to save money. We can’t see the potholes until it is too late and we hit them!

    April 19th, 2011 11:00 am

  9. Jim

    Sonoma County has the worst roads in the state. Just ride your bike around Petaluma and you’ll get beat up by the pathetic streets. Just more incentive to not shop in the are, avoid as much state income tax as possible (legally). The government keeps raising taxes and fees, keeps encroaching more and more into our lives and the amount paid to union leeches and bloated government payrolls increases. This state is a laughing stock. The county is a joke.

    April 19th, 2011 11:43 am

  10. paul

    Once elected, politicians become the enemy of the people, at least in this sham democracy. The “buck”stops here went thataway. But you get your pay and retirement even if the county, city,state, country goes broke, You don’t do anything for the money. No wonder people spend so much to get elected. Hidden favors,legal immunity, no responsibility, special health care, special protection from “the people”. It’s just as bad at the upper levels of admin.fromcity to national gov’t.


    April 19th, 2011 12:24 pm

  11. P. Rust

    And it’s not just potholes. What about those metal plates on southbound Fulton just south of Guerneville Road? They aren’t properly leveled with the road at the edges and must stick up a couple of inches at least. Having just come from jouncing around in potholes the county doesn’t know about, my poor car has to contend with badly installed metal plates; doesn’t the county know about those either? Do they care?

    April 19th, 2011 12:43 pm

  12. Jim Q.

    The solution, folks, is to send a written letter by certified mail to the County each time you see a pot hole with the following information:
    street address of the pothole location.
    a description as to approximate size and depth
    and a request that the county affirm they understood your alert.

    Then, give them a “reasonable” amount of time of maybe 2 months before you AGAIN send them a warning letter that injury (i.e. to bike riders or motorcycle riders or car damage could result if they fail to repair the pothole. TAKE A PHOTO OF THAT POTHOLE & PLACE A NEWSPAPER NEXT TO IT SO THAT THE COUNTY CAN’T SAY THE PHOTO WAS AN OLD PHOTO.

    After that, you’ve got the county where they can’t hike and they can’t lie.

    No matter who gets injured or what car gets damaged, the county won’t be able to lie their way out of responsibility for payment of damages.

    April 19th, 2011 12:52 pm

  13. Safedriver

    All good comments! County roads and including city streets are no longer enjoyable to drive on. I used to enjoy taking a drive to see the sights but those days are gone.
    I don’t drive unless necessary and then I slow down if I have any indication of poor road conditions.
    As far as government goes, it’s really time for revolution. Time to throw lying politicians (you can tell cause their mouths move) out on the street just for the heck of it if nothing else.
    When can you ever remember a politician really getting what coming to them? I can’t think of one who hasn’t got away with their corruption.

    April 20th, 2011 2:19 am

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