Drivers report damage from potholes in roads, but Tennessee denies every claim

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Two drivers, two days in a row, hit a massive pothole on a state road in Memphis, causing hundreds of dollars in damage — but the state of Tennessee says it’s not to blame.

That’s because the state has been using an excuse to keep it from taking responsibility for any pothole damage in Shelby County over the last two years.

Jasmine Matthews says March 2 started out as a great day. She was leaving work early. But on Stage Road, near Covington Pike, she came down a hill and saw a “massive, massive pothole.”

“I didn’t see it until I was right there on it,” she said. “There was a car beside me on the left. A car beside me on the right. I couldn’t swerve.”

She hit the pothole. A piece of metal in the middle of the hole caused two flat tires and a split rim, causing about $2,000 in damage.

Two women say they hit this pothole on Stage Road, but the state has denied their damage claims.

Matthews had to pay $1,084.64 out of pocket. She remembers the exact total because she says it left her with $164 to take care of her kids for two weeks.

“It really could have caused an accident. People could have been hurt. I could have been hurt,” she said.

Teresa Crump crossed paths with the same pothole the very next day. It also damaged her tire.

“I mean it was a pothole with a big enormous piece of metal sticking out of it,” she said.

She says she was crying on the side of the road when Matthews happened to drive by, stopping to explain how the same thing happened to her.

“I said, really? And then she told me what happened,” Crump said. “It didn’t make me feel better but we cried together.”

Matthews says Memphis Police helped her get a tow truck and drove her to a safe spot to wait for a ride.
She says the officers reported the pothole.

But TDOT says it has no record of it, and crews patched the pothole during routine maintenance.

That made it hard for Matthews to plead her case when she filed a claim against the state for the damage.

“The state basically said it was my job as a citizen to prove their negligence before they paid anything,” Matthews said.

On June 1, she got a letter denying her claim, saying there’s “insufficient proof that the state of Tennessee or its employees acted negligently.”

A state spokesperson explained that, according to Tennessee law, in order for the them to approve a claim, the driver has to prove one of two things: the pothole was “created by the state” or allowed to “exist due to the state’s negligence,” or that the state “was aware” of it and could have repaired it but “neglected to do so.”

In 2019, we found out 292 people filed a claim in Shelby County, and in 2020, 193 claims were filed.

The state didn’t approve any of them. Not a single one.

As for Memphis city roads, we found out 166 people filed claims with the city for pothole damage last year and 116 so far this year. The city has paid about 5 percent of those claims.

Memphis officials also cited the state law, saying the pothole has to be reported and they have to have had a reasonable amount of time to fix it.

Right now, the city has an average of four crews on pothole duty during the week, and TDOT says it also has crews doing routine maintenance daily.

The state says two years ago, it implemented a new portal for processing claims that they feel is a more streamlined process that should aid those filing a claim. It’s also working with a third party whose core business is claims management, and also has more resources in times of high claim volume.

But these two women believe otherwise. They say the process is difficult, and it’s set up to hurt the little guy.

“How can we provide for ourselves if we can’t maintain our vehicle?” Matthews asked.

Pothole problems? Here’s what to do

The best thing you can do is report the pothole right away and keep a record.

The city now has a tracker on its website where you can see what potholes on city roads have been reported and when, helping you build your case if you file a claim. Click this link. First, set the date range on the left side to search this year. The, click the pins marked “Open,” “In Progress” and “Closed” and select Street Maintenance > Potholes to see a map of recent pothole reports.

If you hit a pothole on a state road, call (901) 684-5467 or (731) 935-0205. If you’re on a Memphis city road, call 311.

To file a claim with the state: http://treasury.tn.gov/Services/Claims-and-Risk-Management/TORT-Liability

To file a claim with the city: https://www.memphistn.gov/government/law/city-claims/

Here is a list of the roads that belong to the state:

·         Bill Morris Parkway (TN 385)

·         Covington Pike (TN 204)

·         Danny Thomas Boulevard/Thomas Street (TN 3)

·         Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard east of Second (TN 278)

·         East Parkway/part of Airways Boulevard (TN 277)

·         E.H. Crump Boulevard (TN 1/4)

·         Elvis Presley Boulevard/Bellevue Boulevard south of Union (TN 3)

·         Germantown Parkway (TN 177)

·         Getwell Road/New Getwell Road south of I-240 (TN 176)

·         Jackson Avenue (TN 14)

·         Lamar Avenue (TN 4)

·         North Parkway/A.W. Willis Avenue east of Second (TN 1)

·         Poplar Avenue east of East Parkway (TN 57)

·         Second Street south of Chelsea Avenue (TN 14)

·         Shelby Drive east of Third Street (TN 175)

·         Stage Road (TN 15)

·         State Route 300 — I-40/Thomas Street connector

·         Summer Avenue (TN 1)

·         Third Street/B.B. King Boulevard (TN 14)

·         Union Avenue east of Second (TN 3)

·         Walnut Grove Road west of I-240 (TN 23)

·         Weaver Road south of Shelby Drive (TN 175)

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