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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: April 17, 2015 09:02 AM
From: Representative John A. Lawrence
To: All House members
Subject: Allowing Motorists with Pothole Damaged Vehicles to Pursue a Claim Against the State for Repair Bills

Dear Colleagues –

In the near future, I intend to introduce legislation that will provide motorists the ability to recover financial losses resulting from pothole-induced damage to their motor vehicle.

This past winter was one of the most severe in recent memory. When combined with the previous winter, the past two winters with the unusually harsh freeze/thaw cycles resulted in a bumper crop of potholes.

In my area, the pothole situation is simply out of control. In my view, PennDOT has tried to deal with the situation, but the problem has overwhelmed existing repair resources. I have personally reported potholes to PennDOT that have gone unrepaired for weeks on end.

Certainly potholes are a fact of life, and there is no way to completely eliminate them. However, the Pennsylvania motorist is paying the highest gas tax in the nation, and has every reason to expect state roads to be maintained properly. Severe, car-eating potholes going unaddressed for a month or more are not acceptable.

The goals of my proposal are several. First, motorists suffering large repair bills (new suspension, body damage, etc.) due to poorly maintained roads should not be expected to pay out of pocket or file an insurance claim for damage caused by state inaction. This bill would provide relief in this instance. Second, adoption of this proposal would encourage PennDOT to fill potholes faster by hiring extra crews, contractors, and/or by scheduling night/weekend work, as all of these alternatives would be cheaper than paying out multiple claims to pothole damaged automobiles.

Existing state law provides for several exemptions to sovereign immunity. Current law, reproduced below, already allows for motorists to pursue a claim against the state for damages caused by potholes, with a specific exemption for property damage. My legislation would change the last sentence to remove the property damage exemption as it relates to vehicles.

Property damages shall not be recoverable under this paragraph.

Property damages shall not be recoverable under this paragraph, except for motor vehicles lawfully operated by a properly licensed driver.

I would appreciate your support of this initiative.

(b) Acts which may impose liability.--The following acts by a Commonwealth party may result in the imposition of liability on the Commonwealth and the defense of sovereign immunity shall not be raised to claims for damages caused by:
(5) Potholes and other dangerous conditions.--A dangerous condition of highways under the jurisdiction of a Commonwealth agency created by potholes or sinkholes or other similar conditions created by natural elements, except that the claimant to recover must establish that the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury which was incurred and that the Commonwealth agency had actual written notice of the dangerous condition of the highway a sufficient time prior to the event to have taken measures to protect against the dangerous condition. Property damages shall not be recoverable under this paragraph.

Introduced as HB1565