State pays zero claims for potholes

June 15, 2010 6:13:18 PM PDT
On a Friday night in March, Sherrie Mazur was taking her husband - ABC11 Weekend Sports Anchor Joe Mazur - out for a birthday dinner when a pothole on Morrisville Parkway changed their plans.

"It was dark, and as we came around the curve - before we even had a chance to spot it - we literally ran into the world's biggest pothole," she recalled. "It sounded like an explosion."

Damage to the car totaled two thousand dollars.

"It ruined both wheels, and I had to have both tires replaced," said Mazur.

The next day, she told the City of Cary about it which, in turn, sent an e-mail to the state telling them about the pothole. Mazur also filed a claim to have the state pay for damages.

"Six weeks or so later, I got a letter from that department saying that they had no prior knowledge of the pothole happening and there was nothing they could do, they couldn't help me," said Mazur.

Mazur is not alone. An ABC11 I-Team investigation shows of 100 claims filed for pothole damage in North Carolina over the last year, not one has been paid.

The state department in North Carolina that handles pothole claims is the Department of Justice.

Department spokesperson Jennifer Canada told ABC11 in an e-mail that the Department of Transportation collects records and sends them to the Department of Justice. The DOJ then accepts or rejects the claim.

The standard state defense is the one they gave to Mazur.

"The letter said they had no prior knowledge of it and so they couldn't be held accountable for fixing something they never knew existed. Sounds like a fair argument - it is a fair argument - only it's untrue," said Mazur.

In fact, the state did know about potholes on that stretch of road as early as February 18 when another e-mail ABC11 obtained was sent to the DOT.

DOT maintenance engineer Steve Halsey admits they knew about it and says they filled it.

"According to the records I found, we put some cold patch on that stretch of road. Maybe not that specific pothole, but we did do some cold patching in the area, based on the information we got based on that e-mail," said Halsey.

But what Halsey said is critical: "maybe not that specific pothole." State records aren't specific enough to say exactly what holes were filled in a given area - begging the question how can that data be used to deny claims?

There's also no centralized database for complaints.

"I have a filing system within my own e-mail," Halsey explained.

In Wake County, it's up to Halsey to keep track of the e-mails he gets. Phone calls either go to him or to crews in the field, and may or may not be filed. So, if claim payouts are based on complaints and complaints can get lost, does the system work?

"Is the system at fault perhaps? That's something you're going to have to talk to the Department of Justice about," said Halsey.

But no one at the Department of Justice would talk to us about it. We asked repeatedly for an interview, and finally got an e-mail telling us the Department of Justice is "not in a position to do an on camera interview about this."

With questions unanswered and a claim unpaid, Sherrie Mazur says she plans to fight. And if there is strength in numbers, her case may be bolstered by others who've filed claims and not been paid.

"They're saying that every single time - out of a hundred - that these things happened - every single time - the driver was at fault and never the fault of the state or the pothole they've run into," Mazur offered. "I think that you've got to stop and take a look at that. I just don't believe that that could be true."

The next step for people in Mazur's shoes is to file an appeal with the State Industrial Commission and that is what Mazur says she intends to do.

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