Towson resident Max Hernandez was on his way to meet friends for dinner in downtown Towson Sept. 7 when he encountered something that got in the way—a half-foot deep pothole in the right southbound lane on Fairmount Avenue just before East Pennsylvania Avenue.
The damage to his Mini Cooper Countryman after hitting the pothole was so extensive that Hernandez said he was unable to keep going. He pulled over to the side of the road and found the front passenger tire was flat and the hubcap was cracked.
“The car jumped in the air,” Hernandez said. “I thought, ‘Well, this is great.’”
He left the car with a note for police explaining the car was disabled and then walked to downtown Towson until he could secure a tow to a body shop where he could have the car looked over and purchase a new tire for about $300.
The body shop later determined another $2,000 in damage to his 3-month-old car, including a bent body and a cracked windshield.
After four months, $2,300 in repairs and multiple calls to Baltimore County government officials to attempt to get the county to reimburse him for repairs, Hernandez said he has been unable to get reimbursed through a liability claim he submitted to the Claims Management division in the Baltimore County Office of Budget and Finance the day after the incident. In fact, he received a letter of denial from the county Nov. 21.
Hernandez said that although he feels the responsibility for the damage should fall to Baltimore County, he has filed a claim through his insurer. He is frustrated by the denial he received, but also wants to warn other drivers that they may be on the hook for what can be a costly repair, he said.
“It happened to me and [I’m] trying to prevent it from happening to someone else,” Hernandez said.
Claims Management is responsible for administration of personal injury, property damage and workers compensation claims brought against Baltimore County, according to the the website.
Baltimore County Code 10-5-101 et seq., restricts payments from the county’s self-insurance program to only those claims for which the county has been determined legally liable, according to the claim denial letter Hernandez received from the county.
Though claims are “assessed on an individual basis,” only drivers who hit a pothole after Baltimore County officials are notified and fail to repair the pothole in a “reasonable” amount of time are eligible for reimbursement, according to Lisa Peffers, who works in Claims Management.
“When reviewing this loss it was determined that the County Public Works Bureau along with other agencies of the County had not received a complaint for this pothole prior to it being struck,” Peffers said in a Jan. 30 statement, adding that the county is responsible for the maintenance of 8,802 individual roads. “The magnitude of the responsibility for this maintenance prevents the County from identifying every problem area without the assistance from citizens.”
Peffers did not provide data for how many claims the county receives each year or the amount in claims that is paid out for pothole-related repairs.
According to the letter from the Claims Management division, the Baltimore County Bureau of Highways, which Hernandez said he also notified of the pothole, filled the hole “shortly after” being notified.
Department of Public Works spokeswoman Lauren Watley said crews are typically sent out to fill the potholes within 24 hours. The department is tasked with filling more than 58,000 potholes throughout the county each year, according to its website.
Tim Hollenshade, a technician at Hollenshade's Auto Repair Service in Towson, said the damage Hernandez experienced from one pothole is not uncommon, but that there are few things people can do to prevent going through a similar experience.
Though there is no avoiding larger potholes, damage from “moderate” potholes can be minimized by properly inflating tires and regularly cleaning the crevices in between the tire and wheel of buildup from salt used to treat roads in the winter.
Salt trucks, snowplows and cold weather in general beat up roads more often in the winter months and cause potholes to form, he said.
Though he did not have specific figures for pothole-related tire damage, about 100 of the tire-related jobs that came into the shop in January were related to corrosion, damage or debris in the road, he said.
“There’s no way to avoid them,” Hollenshade said. “[Hernandez] probably would have had the same damage if he had a [Chevrolet] Suburban.”