Providence City Council mulls plan to ‘expedite’ pothole claims

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – From a $105 pothole claim to a $100,000 lawsuit following a school bus accident, the City Council Committee on Claims and Pending Suits is set to discuss 82 separate requests for compensation Tuesday evening.

But it’s the 83rd item on the agenda that could provide the most relief for city residents in the coming years.

Councilman Sam Zurier has asked the committee to consider allowing the city’s law department to process claims for potholes without seeking council approval for each individual request, a policy he says would result in quicker payments to people whose cars are damaged by the city’s crumbling streets.

“I will be asking the committee whether they would agree to letting the [city] solicitor handle pothole claims of $300 and less without seeking council approval in order to reduce the administrative burden on the clerk’s office and to expedite the processing of claims for people who have incurred this type of loss,” Zurier, who chairs the committee, told WPRI.com.

Tuesday will mark the fourth time the committee has met since the beginning of the year. The city received 283 claims – 199 of which are related to potholes – as of March 19, according to Lori Hagen, the city clerk.

Hagen said that’s a sharp decrease in claims from the same point in 2014, when the city received 385 pothole claims and 427 overall claims. All told, the city processed 978 claims in 2014, two-thirds of which were related to potholes.

The overall costs for claims in 2014 and 2015 weren’t immediately available, but a 2013 WPRI.com review of claim payments showed the city spent nearly $12,000 per month on pothole damages and other accidents between Jan. 2009 and March 2013.

The city requires people to file a claim with the city clerk related to potholes within seven days of any incident. All claims – including personal injury and automobile or property damage – must be mailed to Providence City Hall. Claimants must provide copies of two estimates as well as any medical bills or other documents pertaining to the incident.

Under former Mayor Angel Taveras, the city borrowed $40 million to pave more than 60 miles of roads throughout the city, but another rough winter destroyed many of streets that weren’t repaved through the road bond program.

New Mayor Jorge Elorza has said the city is working “night and day” to fill potholes across the city. He said the Department of Public Works is making a list of damaged roads and plans to make the busiest streets a top priority.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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