Potholes Lead to Compensation Claims

After the snow came the potholes. They came in their millions, pock-marking Britain's roads and damaging cars, causing cyclists and motorcyclists to come to grief and pedestrians to turn ankles or get peppered by flying stones, sent airborne by passing cars.

"We saw a four-fold increase in the number of claims for pothole damage compared with the same period last year," says Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance.

"But with loss of no-claim bonus and insurance excess, it really does take serious damage from a pothole 'strike' – or the consequences of one – to justify making a claim.

"So although many pothole incidents cause damage, the cost of repair doesn't always justify a claim."

Winter weather

Potholes can of course, occur anywhere and at any time, but the severe winter has been particularly harsh on the ashphalt.

Water getting into cracks freezes and, as it does so it expands and loosens the road surface. Passing vehicles do the rest, irritating the sore until it becomes a gaping wound in the road's surface.

Indeed, the AA expressed serious concern about the epidemic of potholes and called on the Government to provide extra cash for highway authorities to repair the damage.

Claims cost

Last year, highway authorities lost £47 million* in compensation claims and extra staff costs in dealing with them and the AA expects the cost of claims to be considerably greater this year.

Simon Douglas points out that if a highway authority has been notified of a defect it may be liable for damage caused so it is important to tell them about such hazards.

"It would take a quarry-like pothole to cause the sort of damage that would justify an insurance claim," he says.

"But most commonly, our customers have either tried to avoid a pothole and hit something else, such as a kerb, or hitting a hole has caused them to momentarily lose control and hit another vehicle or object."


However, pothole damage to cars is usually confined to tyres and wheels, steering and suspension, including springs and axles.

"If you hit a pothole and afterwards you notice vibration, the steering wheel doesn't 'centre' properly or it pulls to one side, get the car checked immediately, as faults such as tracking or steering damage can lead to later expense or even an accident.

"Keep an eye on your tyres, too," Douglas advises. "Damage may not be immediately obvious but watch for development of tell-tale bulges on the tyre walls, indicating serious internal damage.

"If you see such a defect, change the tyre immediately as a bulge is likely to result in a blow-out which could be catastrophic if you're travelling a speed."

Watch out

You can tell your own pothole stories on the AA is inviting drivers to report them at Pothole Watch on the www.theAA.com.

Three pothole claims

  • Mr H hit a serious pothole that was full of water and concealed by the wet road surface. The strike punctured the front-near-side low-profile tyre of his BMW, distorted and cracked the aluminium wheel and damaged the steering. Estimated repair bill: over £2,200
  • While negotiating a bend, Mrs P hit a pothole that wrenched her steering, so losing control. She hit the near-side kerb causing the front nearside wheel to collapse underneath the car as well as damaging the front valance of her Ford Fiesta on the concrete kerb. Estimated repair bill: £1,850
  • Mr W's Skoda Superb slid on an icy road surface as he tried to avoid a pothole. However, his front offside wheel was caught by the hole causing the back of his car to swing out into the path of an oncoming van. Estimated repair bill to both car and van: £3,600

A real hole

  • Last year's ALARM survey of local authority highway departments found that more than £63 million was spent filling in potholes during the 2008/9.

    However, a further £47 million was lost to compensation claims and extra staff costs (www.asphaltuk.org)

  • One-time cost to stop the rotting road surfaces: £47m per local authority
  • 968,195 potholes filled over last year – AA estimates that there are about 32% more holes to fill this year
  • Average cost to fill one pothole: £65

Last updated: 20 February 2010