Woman says FDOT, contractor should pay up after tires blown out by pothole

Pothole has since been repaired

By Layron Livingston - Reporter

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. - It was dark. It was stormy. Rain was pouring down. The road was covered with water. Saundra Gause said all she wanted to do was get home.

She was close, too -- just a few blocks from her driveway.

Gause said she was driving last August and took the off-ramp from Interstate 95 south, where it joins Northwest Sixth Avenue.

"Bam! Bam!" she described hearing and feeling her car hit a pothole hidden by all of the water. 

"I just thank God I made it home," Gause said. "As soon as I entered into the driveway, the air went down."

The pothole has since been repaired, but the impact blew both tires on the passenger side of Gause's car.

She filed a police report the next morning. She also went back to the pothole to take pictures of the water-logged roadway. One shows cones and a detour sign placed around the high water and the pothole she hit in the left lane.

Gause eventually learned the stretch of Northwest Sixth Avenue was one of the Florida Department of Transportation's roads. She filed a claim with the department, hoping to get back the nearly $350 she spent on two new tires.

"[FDOT] should be responsible," she said.

Gause showed the "Leave it Layron" team a letter from the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Risk Management, which acts as the adjustment authority for FDOT's liability claims.  

The respondent wrote: "The Florida Department of Transportation does own the property; however, there was an asset maintenance contract in effect with DBi (DeAngelo Brothers Inc) … at the time of the incident." 

The letter went on to say, "The contract included a provision in which the contractor assumed responsibility for all claims arising out of operations in the area," and suggested contacting the contractor to file a claim.

"Some people may not have money for a tire, or whatever the damage may be to their car," Gause said. "I think it's unfair that the people responsible for the road don't want to pay."

Weeks later, Gause received a letter from DBi Services LLC's corporate risk management department acknowledging it was the contractor for certain sections of roadways.

The letter read, in part: "DBiS has investigated the alleged occurrence and has concluded that there is no basis for the imposition of liability on DBiS for any property damage in this matter. Specifically, DBiS needs to know of the roadway defect, have other complaints about the location and fail to repair it in a timely matter."

Because the contractor did not know about the pothole until after Gause reported it, the contractor denied any liability for her claim. In that same letter, the contractor wrote a crew was mobilized to repair the road once they became aware of the problem. 

"It's a catch-22," said Michael Flynn, a law professor with Nova Southeastern University. "You can't make FDOT responsible for every pothole, even the most dangerous potholes, unless they know of them."

Flynn explained Gause is the unlucky one because it was a claim that put the FDOT and its contractor on notice about the pothole.

"If she's the first one to notify, then she's the one who's helping other people," Flynn said. "So, it becomes very important for people driving on those roads where there are these road construction defects to report it to somebody so that they're on notice."

In a statement, an FDOT spokesperson said motorists can contact either the public information office at (305)-470-5349 or the district maintenance office at (305)-470-5354 to report potholes, road defects and other concerns. 

FDOT told the LITL team its contractor is required to routinely inspect roadways and develop work needs.

FDOT said it also performs regular inspections of its roadway facilities to ensure its contractor is meeting its contractual obligations. The department said its transportation management center continually monitors cameras to keep tabs on road hazards.

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