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How to get repair money for potholes, file a claim in Michigan. (Good luck)

pot hole on an empty street
Creating a paper trail, figuring out on the front end which agency owns the road and filling out a detailed claim form potentially could increase a driver’s chances of success when filing a damage claim. (Bridge photo by Brayan Gutierrez)
  • Michigan has a system that allows drivers to get reimbursed if from potholes
  • The system favors road agencies, but if they knowingly fail to fix road defects, drivers can get up to $1,000
  • Here’s a step-by-step guide to increase odds of payment 

Have potholes or other defects on Michigan roads sent you to the repair shop with a flat tire, bent rims or worse?

You’re not alone, and you could be eligible for compensation of up to $1,000 if the road agency in charge knew or should have known about a defect “and had a reasonable time to repair the defect” typically 30 days.


Payouts are rare —  less than 10 percent for the state since 2018 and even fewer than that for counties — but not impossible.


Here’s a step-by-step process for filing a claim for highway vehicle damage in Michigan: 

Document the incident

If your car is damaged on a Michigan road, create a paper trail: Take photos of the damage and note where the incident occurred. If police are called, follow up with the agency to obtain a copy of the report. 

Keep receipts for any repairs. If you file a claim with your auto insurance to help cover damage costs, keep those records handy as well.  

Claims for damages under $1,000 not covered by auto insurance can be considered by road agencies. To seek damages over $1,000, be prepared to sue, as those claims typically have to go through the courts. 

ripped tire
A damaged tire from a Michigan pothole (Courtesy photo)

Determine who maintains the road

Michigan has more than 122,000 miles of public roadways that are maintained by a patchwork of agencies. For the best chance at filing a successful claim, figuring out which road agency is responsible for the specific road where an incident occurred on the front end is worth the time. 

Interstate freeways and state highways are under the Michigan Department of Transportation’s purview. State trunk lines have numbered highway signs that start with a word or a letter, such as Interstate 75, M-43 or US 23. 

The vast majority of Michigan roads — 90,281 miles of them — are county roads maintained by one of Michigan’s 83 county road commissions. Another 21,396 miles are city streets that are the responsibility of the individual municipality. 

If there’s uncertainty about which agency is responsible for maintaining a specific road, contact the nearest MDOT regional office or the local county road commission for clarification. 

tear in tire
A damaged tire from a Michigan pothole (Courtesy photo)

File a claim form

Claim forms vary slightly depending on jurisdiction, but agencies will typically ask drivers for: 

  • Name and contact information
  • Date, time and location of the incident
  • A description of the damage 
  • Amount requested for the claim
  • Whether insurance covered any of the expense
  • Explanation of why the road agency is at fault
  • Any witnesses of the incident
  • Supporting documents, such as repair receipts and photographs

For MDOT damage claims, forms must be mailed to the nearest regional office. MDOT does not require notarization to submit the initial form, but drivers will need a notary if their claim is approved before any reimbursement is paid out.

Some local agencies, like the Road Commission for Oakland County, have online form options available, while others, including the Wayne County Road Commission, similarly require forms to be mailed or dropped off in person to be considered. The Kent County Road Commission doesn’t list a form on its website, instead encouraging drivers to call its traffic and safety division first.

Don’t wait to file: to be considered eligible for a damage claim, drivers seeking compensation for highway vehicle damage must file within 120 days of the incident for state roads and 90 days for local roads. 

flat tire
A damaged tire from a Michigan pothole (Courtesy photo)

Wait and see

After the road agency gets a damage claim request, it typically takes a while before drivers hear back. MDOT’s estimate for damage claim investigations is at least 90 days.

Under Michigan law, road agencies and other government bodies are generally protected from liability claims. One exception to that rule allows the public to seek damages for defective highways if the agency knew about a defect “and had a reasonable time to repair the defect” before something happened, which the law defines as a 30-day window. 

Once road agencies get a claim, either an agency employee or a third-party administrator begins the investigation process. For pothole claims, that entails reviewing maintenance logs to check when the area in question was last repaired, as well as public reports of potholes or other defects to determine when officials were first notified. 

Most pothole-related claims are denied because the 30-day mark of not addressing a defect prior to the incident hadn’t yet passed. 

Denied? What to do 

For most drivers, a denial is the final bump in the road in their quest to get compensated for vehicle damage incurred on Michigan roadways. But a few options remain.


If a claim for damage on state roads is denied by MDOT, claimants on state roads have the option to refile that claim with the State Administrative Board for further consideration.

Claimants on local roads seeking to appeal should check with their local road agency for more information.

Beyond pursuing claims from the state, some of the damage could be covered by a vehicle or tire warranty or an insurance deductible if a driver’s insurance includes collision coverage.

But check with your insurance agency first before deciding whether to file a claim or pay out of pocket. Because drivers are technically in control of the vehicle when they hit a pothole, most treat pothole damage as an at-fault collision, meaning a claim to pay for damages could impact your insurance rates.

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