So a Light Post Fell on My Car

PHOTO: Mike Gavin wrote in to the ABC News Fixer after a light post fell on his carMike Gavin
Mike Gavin wrote in to the ABC News Fixer after a light post fell on his car and he struggled with local officials to be reimbursed.

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Dear ABC News Fixer: A city light post fell on my parked car and caused significant damage to the trunk. It was evident that it fell due to the base of the light post being rusted out.

I immediately reported it to my insurance company and the police. I also went to my alderman’s office. The alderman’s secretary said the city would most likely not reimburse me for the $500 deductible or any possible further damages and if they did, it could take three to five years before I received any money. I got a similar response from the city and ComEd workers who came out to replace the old post.

I heard the same thing from a few friends who are Chicago police officers.

This doesn’t seem fair. If I get a parking ticket and I don’t pay it, the city can double the fine; for two old unpaid tickets, they can boot my car. Yet when their property damages my car, I can’t get any help. They replaced the rusted light post the same day, but the same sense of urgency was missing when it came to my car. Please advise.

- Mike Gavin, Chicago, Ill.

Dear Mike: As a fellow denizen of the Windy City, the ABC News Fixer was curious about whether you were really out of luck, partly for the selfish thought that maybe the next light pole might fall on our car. But actually, this type of problem could happen to anyone who interacts with any municipality’s infrastructure, whether it’s a potholed road or a crumbling concrete bridge.

Our first stop was the Chicago Department of Transportation, where we asked spokesman Peter Scales if there was a way for you to file a claim. It turns out there is. The Chicago City Council’s finance committee takes complaints about property damage caused by the city. It took about a month for you to gather the required two estimates and police report, but you finally submitted the form, photos and all your documentation in mid-January.

We were warned that it could take 10 months for this to wend its way through the system – getting introduced to the City Council, referred back to the finance committee for investigation, waiting for the affected city department to make a report and then finally ruled valid or invalid. We also were told that the settlement offer might be less than what you claimed.

So the long wait began, from winter into spring. And then, at last, some good news: In the second week of June, you got a letter from the Chicago City Council’s finance committee offering $1,081.80 to fix your 2006 VW Jetta -- the amount of your lower estimate. You told us you were really happy to finally be able to fix your car. After you accept the settlement offer, it will go to the City Council for approval, and then you’ll get your check.

We’re glad this had a happy ending.

In a perfect world, no one would ever get a busted axle from a gigantic pothole and no one’s van would get side-swiped by a city garbage truck.

But these things happen.

For anyone else with a problem like this, the first step is to check with your insurance company. Depending on your level of coverage, it might be easier to take care of it there and save yourself a bureaucratic hassle.

Otherwise, contact the local government and ask about their claims procedure for damages caused by them. It varies from place to place. For example, in New York City, the comptroller’s office handles claims. Keep in mind that some cities are tougher than others in approving claims, and some assign a large portion of the blame to the victim (reasoning, for instance, that a driver could have seen a pothole and driven around it). In some municipalities, you’ll need to prove that the city knew there was a hazard and didn't address it.

Be sure to act quickly, as some cities sharply limit the amount of time you have to make a claim.

- The ABC News Fixer

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