Photo: Video by fox4now.com
CREATED Jul. 16, 2013
Fort Myers and Cape Coral, Fla.
It happens to all of us at one time another, one minute you're cruising the along and then you roll over a pot hole. You can just feel the damage to your alignment and who knows what else. You didn't put the pothole there and your tax dollars are supposed to get them fixed. So who should pay for the damage?
FOX4 Reporter Dave Culbreth has been gathering records for nearly two months from Charlotte County to Collier County. We soon discovered potholes are not really prevalent anywhere in Southwest Florida except Cape Coral. We then discovered the way the Cape handles them is different from other places.
"It doesn't matter if it's a pot hole, or stop sign down, if you see something out there that's not right that needs to be fixed please call us and let us know because we want to make it better," said Mike Quigley, the Risk Manager for the City of Cape Coral who also oversees the public works department.
Because of the rainy season the majority of the calls are for potholes, potholes that can do serious damage to your vehicle. "If it needs to be fixed get an estimate and send it in to us,” added Quigley. “Every claim or every complaint that gets called in is investigated."
We investigated too, gathering documents involving pothole complaints, claims, and payouts in Southwest Florida. Cape Coral has a call center that handles pothole complaints among other things. Since January 1st, 2010, there have been 2,846 calls regarding potholes. "Probably a lot of the calls that we receive are just warning us 'hey, we saw this, heads up," Quigley said.
But why are there so many potholes in one city? "It could be the wear and tear, it could be the heat, it could be the rain, a number of different reasons why a pot hole may form," added Quigley.
Cape Coral is the second largest city land-wise in Florida, behind Jacksonville and has over 1,100 miles of roads. "You could put all of New York City in Cape Coral,” Quigley observed.
Cape Coral has so many potholes it has its own 'pothole' crew. Culbreth asked Jim DePatie, who works on the ‘pothole crew’, "You guys take pride in what you're doing out here? Absolutely. We're just trying to fill these holes so that people don't ruin their cars," DePatie said.
"They do understand that the quicker they get out there limits the city's exposure for damages and potential injuries," explained Quigley.
But their job is not just to keep people's cars out of potholes but to keep people out of court. Cape corals motto is simple when it comes to paying for claims, "if it doesn't know, it doesn't owe." Quigley said, "If the city doesn't know about a dangerous condition or damage or something like that, we can't take the proper action to fix it."
What if they do know about it? They give their crew about three days to fix it. “If we get put on notice of the dangerous condition and we don't take appropriate action in what is called a reasonable amount of time then we are negligent and we are liable and we have to pay for the damages," said Quigley.
So how much has Cape Coral paid out? Culbreth researched that too, and over the last three and a half years it's paid two claims. Two claims out of almost 3,000 calls. One was for $1,367, the other was for $410 for a total of $1,777.
But there are two completely different philosophies about how to handle how pot holes might do damage to your vehicle between the cities of Cape Coral and Fort Myers.
In that same time period, since January 1, 2010, the City of Fort Myers paid 19 claims totaling $16,558, an average of $871 per claim. One man got over $5,142 for damage to his vehicle. "If we're responsible, we're going to pay," said Grant Alley, the attorney for the City of Ft. Myers. "We don't just flippantly pay. If somebody calls up and makes a claim we don't just break out a checkbook and pay, we investigate."
Alley says the Fort Myers philosphy is the same as Cape Coral's on new claims, "if it doesn't know, it doesn't owe". But there is one big difference. In Fort Myers, the city "will" pay for damage caused by a pothole the city knew about but hadn't fixed yet. "Because that's the right thing to do, that's the fair thing to do. The mayor and the city council want to treat people fairly."
Fort Myers does not have a specific call center for pothole issues. Cape Coral’s call center can be reached at (239) 574-0425.
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