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NBC 10 I-Team: Who gets paid for pothole damage?

Rough winter roads can do serious damage to your car, but Rhode Island law gives drivers a way to get up to $300 cash back -- if they follow the right steps. (WJAR)

Rough winter roads can do serious damage to your car.

But Rhode Island law gives drivers a way to get up to $300 cash back -- if they follow the right steps.

The NBC 10 I-Team dug through more than 700 pothole claims filed with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation during the past two years, to find out what you need to do to get paid back for pothole damage to your car.

It happened to Robyn Ladouceur of Cranston during a night out in Providence in January.

"Suddenly, my husband was like, 'Watch out!' I hit this pothole, and my tire went way down into the pothole,” she said.

Ladouceur brought her Toyota Camry to Taxbox Toyota in North Kingstown for repairs after she noticed the steering seemed shaky and the tire that hit the pothole was losing air. The total repair bill came to $252.

Like many drivers, Ladouceur said she wasn’t aware the bill could potentially be covered.

“I thought I was just going to have to suck it up and eat the money, and that was going to be the end of it,” she said.

At New England Tire in Warwick, District Manager Anthony Luiz said pothole damage is keeping his crew busy this winter.

"We're probably seeing 10 to 15 daily with pothole damage,” he said. ‘"A very, very busy winter so far."

Few customers know they may be able to get reimbursed.

"Very rarely do I hear them talk about the state program,” Luiz said.

RIDOT records the NBC 10 I-Team reviewed show 598 people got checks from the State due to pothole damage over the past two years, with an average payout of $225.

But another 100-plus drivers who filed claims didn’t get a dollar for the damage.

The number one reason claims were denied -- procrastinating. More than three in five claims that were thrown out missed the legal deadline of just seven days. That’s calendar days, not business days, from the time you hit a pothole.

The short deadline applies to claims for pothole damage on both state roads maintained by RIDOT, and local roads maintained by individual cities and towns. Each municipality has its own claims process.

RIDOT requires either a police report or tow truck bill to prove when and where the damage happened. Then, drivers have 60 days from when a claim is started to submit receipts for their repair bills.

State records also revealed that some Rhode Island's roads lead to more pothole claims than others. Providence was the top area for claims NBC 10 reviewed, and Johnston came in second.

So, what can you do to protect your car this winter?

Luiz at New England Tire said to keep your tires at the correct pressure to help protect your car if you do hit a pothole, as well as avoid puddles when possible.

“Those puddles have the pothole underneath them, so that can damage the rim,” Luiz said. “So, you don't want to drive through a puddle directly."

A few tips to keep in mind beyond the seven-day deadline: you can generally only make a claim if your car is registered in Rhode Island, and the pothole you hit is also in Rhode Island. And the pothole needs to be the direct cause of the damage to your car, not other factors.

Ladouceur filed her claim with the City of Providence before the deadline was up and is now waiting to hear whether she’ll be reimbursed.

"This pothole isn't just a normal pothole,” she said. “This is like a crater on the moon.”

POTHOLE PAYBACK

Step 1 : Within 7 Days

  • Start your claim within 7 calendar days of the incident by mailing a brief letter describing what happened. RIDOT has instructions on its website, as do most cities and towns: http://www.dot.ri.gov/about/claims.php

Step 2 : Within 60 Days

  • Get a police report, tow truck bill or Auto Club bill for RIDOT claims. Call the Police Department in the City or Town where the damage happened. Or, if you were on an Interstate like 95, call Rhode Island State Police.
  • Get the damage repaired and submit receipts for the work along with a copy of your RI registration

Step 3 : Wait at least 45 days for a response

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