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Woman peeved after Surrey denies pothole claim

Surrey cites Local Government Act as reason for denial
Rachel Hutcheson sent this picture to the Now-Leader of the damage to her rim. (Submitted photo)

SURREY — A Whalley resident whose wheel rim got damaged in an encounter with a particularly troublesome Surrey pothole is not impressed that she’s on the hook for the cost of replacing it.

Rachel Hutcheson said the accident happened on March 9 on King George Boulevard near 132nd Avenue.

A video posted to YouTube on March 9 shows seven vehicles pulled over on the side of the road after hitting the problem pothole.

“It was approximately 9 p.m. when I hit it, so it was already dark outside and the road was wet,” Hutcheson told the Now-Leader.

Though she didn’t pop her tire, her rim was dented “pretty badly.”

She took her car to a tire shop the next day and was told she had two options: buy a new rim herself or go through ICBC.

“I called ICBC explained what had happened and asked them if my insurance would cover this damage to my vehicle,” Hutcheson said. “Their response was, I could make a claim if I wanted to pay the $300 deductible and have my rates go up because running over the pothole was considered ‘a collision with a stationary object.’ So I opted not to do this as I have the maximum discount and wasn’t going to lose it over a rim and a collision I didn’t have.”

She then looked to Surrey City Hall to cover the damages.

Hutcheson said she submitted a claim on March 23 and on June 20 she learned it was denied.

The denial letter from city hall cited the Local Government Act, which she showed to the Now-Leader.

The city’s letter notes it is responsible for 4,500 kilometres of roads and crews repair any defects “as soon as practical, depending on the resources, weather and the nature of the hazard.”

READ ALSO: ZYTARUK: Surrey’s potholes are driving plenty of people potty

It acknowledges that the pothole in question “had been reported on the date of your incident. However, the City crews require a reasonable amount of time to attend the area to repair any reported road maintenance issues, and were unable to respond accordingly in this particular situation, given the weather related events and personnel available.”

The letter states: “The Local Government Act (RSBC 2015), Ch. 1, Part 18, Section 744, provides an immunity for liability for claims arising out of the breakdown or malfunction of a road system.”

Municipalities are not liable for any action if “damages arise, directly or indirectly, out of the breakdown or malfunction of a sewer system, a water or drainage facility or system, or a dike or a road,” notes the letter, quoting the act.

Hutcheson questioned why “nobody is responsible for damage occurring to vehicles and the safety of motorists due to the disrepair of the roads in Surrey.”

She noted this pothole was large enough to be reported by AM730 traffic on Feb. 15, three weeks before accident.

“I don’t expect the city crews to magically appear at every pothole as soon as it’s reported, but even some cones and a sign would’ve prevented a lot of headaches and saved the time & services wasted by the fire department who attended to help all the other motorists,” she said.

In the end, Hutcheson said her rim was unrepairable and she had to replace it.

The Now-Leader inquired to Surrey City Hall to find out how many claims were submitted, and how much money was paid out in relation to pothole accidents this past winter.

Surrey spokesperson Oliver Lum said that information is confidential.

He also couldn’t confirm how many claims were received for this particular pothole.

“In terms of actually repairing and paying for repair, the city doesn’t do that,” he explained. “It’s not just the City of Surrey. It’s under the Local Government Act and it provides immunity for certain kinds of claims.”

The normal route is to go through ICBC, he said.

City hall did, however, provide some pothole statistics.

In all of 2016, the city repaired roughly 8,100 potholes.

But in a roughly three month period this winter, it almost matched that number.

From early December, 2016 to Feb. 23 of this year, city hall repaired 7,136 potholes.

That’s up from 2,089 in the same time period the year prior.

Meantime, Hutcheson is still waiting for satisfaction. “I didn’t really get any,” she said. “If it happens again, to anybody else, they’re up the creek as well. Nothing has happened to improve how anything is dealt with.

“The rim was not repairable so I did have to go and purchase a whole new one,” she said. “I was lucky enough to find one at the wreckers so I think it just came to over $100 with tax and whatnot.”

It’s a pain in the neck, “especially when you don’t have hundreds of dollars to just fork out.”

“It took way too long for an answer,” Hutcheson said. “Twelve weeks was I think a little excessive. I was just really unhappy with the answer from city hall and the answer from ICBC.”

— with files from Tom Zytaruk