Personal injury lawyers for two people injured in a March crash recently filed lawsuit looks to hold the City of Newark responsible for thousands of dollars in medical bills.
But does Ohio law allow the injured parties to sue under such circumstances?
The question arose after a lawsuit was filed last week in Licking County Common Pleas Court as a result of damages and injuries said to have been caused by a pothole.
The suit, filed by Charles and Gina Wills, alleges severe physical and emotional injury from a March 28 crash reportedly caused by a pothole in the area of North 21st Street and Jefferson Road.
Newark Law Director Doug Sassen said he’s seen property damage claims filed against the city, but has never seen a personal injury claim like the one filed by the Wills.
The Advocate reached out to the Wills’ attorneys, Dale Perdue and Glen Pritchard, in an effort to get additional information about the claims in the lawsuit and the extent of the injuries the Wills reportedly suffered in the crash.
Perdue responded via email Thursday, saying the lawyers were not able to comment and their clients want to protect their privacy.
“I have no comment about their injuries and damages,” Perdue wrote.
A crash report obtained by The Advocate indicated Charles Wills told police he was going about 35 mph, the posted speed limit, in the area of the intersection of North 21st Street and Jefferson Road. The report said Wills struck a pothole, jerking his vehicle to the right and striking a pole.
Under current Ohio law, a city can be held liable to pay for property damage caused by a pot hole, but the amount of the payment is capped at the person’s insurance deductible.
Every complaint received by the street department for coverage of damages is received in writing, then given to the law director’s office for a legal review. If there is a legal obligation to pay, the street department is told and the payment issued, Sassen said.
Whether a claim will be paid by the city boils down to if the city has made a reasonable effort to maintain the road and respond to any known problems.
“We don’t have a duty to constantly inspect the roadways,” Sassen said. “We don’t have a duty to insure that the roadways are free of potholes and completely safe for the motoring public.”
If a complaint about a pothole is received, making an effort to respond within 24 hours is considered a reasonable effort, he said, but even that can be tricky in winter months.
Because of temperatures and weather conditions, temporary patches and cold asphalt mixes used in winter months are often destroyed shortly after they are installed, Sassen said.
“We can’t be strictly liable for that because we don’t have control over all the factors,” he said. “When you have a pothole in February or March and a cold patch is all you’ve got, you’re at the mercy of the weather and the volume of traffic.”
Complaints about potholes can be made through Newark’s “See, Click, Fix” option on the city’s website.
Street Superintendent Ralph Prince said his department does not use the site, however, as a driving force for where they are addressing problems. He said a secretary will update the status of complaints posted on the site as they are addressed, however, complaints received through phone calls to his department and others are primarily what determines where crews are working.
“A lot of the complaints are duplicate or triplicate,” Prince said.
The See, Click, Fix website does not list any complaints of potholes in the area where the Wills crashed, on the 900 block of North 21st Street.