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Winter brings many special joys: ice, snow, salt damage to your car, and plenty of potholes. But what are you going to do about it -- sue the government?
Well, actually, that's not such a ridiculous idea. After all, they're the ones in charge of the roads. There's no one else to hold accountable for the potential dangers of a poorly paved and pothole-laden highway.
The catch is that you can't just file a lawsuit against the government whenever you feel like it. In general, there's a particular process you have to follow.
Figure Out Who Should Be Sued
Roads are maintained by government entities, but which government are you dealing with?
Local streets are often maintained by local government, state routes are generally within the purview of state government, and interstate highways are repaired with federal dollars given to the states. You have to know which entity owns the road to know which entity should be held accountable.
It might take some digging to determine who's in charge of the road. Once you know that, you can figure out how to file your claim for car damage.
File a Government Tort Claim
Most governmental organizations require notice of a potential injury lawsuit before it's filed. That notice is called a claim, and gives the government a chance to respond.
It's possible they'll accept your injury claim and pay you damages right away, in which case a lawsuit isn't necessary. But it's more likely they'll reject it and you'll have to file suit.
Either way, you need to file the claim as soon as possible, so that there's time for them to respond before the statute of limitations runs out.
Potential Problems With Lawsuits
If your claim is rejected, filing a lawsuit can be difficult because governments have sovereign immunity. That means under state and federal laws, the government's liability for damage to your car is limited as long as the government has exercised reasonable care in road maintenance.
To bring a claim for damage based on potholes, government immunity could be a big roadblock, as almost any governmental act (or omission) can potentially qualify for immunity. But negligent or unreasonable government action -- such as, perhaps, failing to warn drivers about a particularly rough section of roadway when other drivers have formally complained -- may clear the way for alleged victims to receive compensation.
Depending on the extent of your car damage, all that effort may not be worth your time. But if the damage is significant, you'll want to consult an experienced car accident lawyer to increase your odds of winning.