Pothole damage led eight people to file claims between 2017 and 2022 with the city of Fort Worth. None of them received any financial compensation.
During each City Council meeting, staff prepares a presentation outlining liability claims filed by residents over the past month. These presentations include the name of the person filing the claim, the department involved, the incident type and whether there was an injury to the claimant, among other details.
But the final disposition of these claims are rarely presented publicly. The Fort Worth Report requested all liability claims from 2017 to 2022, including the cost incurred by the city for each claim, and then analyzed them by liability coverage type.
Among those coverage types is pothole damage. But damage to a citizen’s car isn’t enough to get money from the city; instead, citizens themselves must have suffered injuries as a result of the pothole on a city street.
That’s because of the Texas Tort Claims Act, which gives municipalities like Fort Worth broad immunity from civil liability. Under the act, according to the Texas Municipal League, citizens must also prove there was a wrongful act, omission or negligence on the part of the city that led to their injury.
“If I walk into Target or a grocery store, and I slipped on a banana peel, it was a bright yellow banana peel and just fell, they’re not going to be liable,” Shannon Conway, an assistant law professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas, said. “But if it was gross and slimy, and the floor was really dirty, and they should have noticed it, then they’re going to be liable.”
For potholes, that could mean that the city knew about an active and hazardous pothole and did not take action to repair it before it injured a driver.
“The way Texas law really looks at this is, ‘Was it a special defect?’” Conway said. “Was it a large pothole or an unusually dangerous pothole or maybe one that’s been around for a while and there’s been several reports and they haven’t gotten around to fixing it.”
Potholes that pop up suddenly after winter weather or heavy rain likely won’t count as a special defect. It’s very difficult to prove government negligence, Conway said, and she usually encourages people to first look at other remedies, like insurance, before suing the city. If you just have liability coverage on your car, you’re out of luck, but comprehensive vehicle coverage can help pay for pothole damages.
How does the city handle potholes, anyways?
Fort Worth typically fills about 100 potholes each day, according to the city’s Transportation and Public Works Department. That number ratchets up after severe weather, like winter storms.
While it’s unlikely the city will pay for pothole damage, it does make a commitment to quick pothole repairs. Fort Worth has set a goal of repairing reported potholes within 48 hours — but it relies on residents to make those reports.
Residents have several methods for reporting potholes to the city. These include filing a report through the MyFW app, calling 817-392-1234, or filling out a report online.
You’ll need to provide the following information:
- The exact location of the pothole and/or direction of travel
- The estimated size and dimensions of the pothole: length, width and depth
It’s optional but encouraged to also provide your name and contact information when reporting a pothole.
Just because you report a pothole and don’t see repairs within 48 hours doesn’t automatically mean the city is liable for any damages or injuries caused by that pothole. Internal guidelines don’t become law just because a city commits to them, Conway said.
“We’re not allowed to change that legal standard, just because they have a great manual that says ‘Do everything you can to fix this within 48 hours of somebody reporting it,’” she said.
Interested in more liability claims coverage?
The Fort Worth Report is publishing a series of stories on liability claims against the city of Fort Worth. Click below for more information.
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Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.