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.