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Michigan eyes change to pothole claims law after Bridge investigation

potholes in the road
Drivers who pop tires or incur other damages on Michigan roads typically have to pay out of pocket for the fixes. (Bridge photo by Brayan Gutierrez)
  • Bills would give drivers whose cars were damaged by potholes 120 days for filing reimbursement claims with counties
  • The legislation was introduced the same day as a Bridge Michigan investigation into the failings of the reimbursement process
  • Michigan roads cause billions in damages but state and county agencies have reimbursed drivers less than $150,000 since 2018

Michigan legislators are moving to end confusion about how long drivers have to file claims for pothole repairs and other road-related damages, following a Bridge Michigan investigation that found the state’s claims process is confusing, contradictory and skewed against motorists.

House Bills 4940 and 4941, which were introduced the same day as Bridge published its investigation, seek to streamline the process and resolve legal discrepancies over how long drivers can wait before filing claims to county road agencies for repairs.


“This legislation helps protect our counties and county commissions and to ensure the upkeep of Michigan's infrastructure will continue to be the priority," House Transportation, Mobility and Infrastructure Committee Chair Nate Shannon, D-Sterling Heights, said during a recent committee hearing. 


Bridge’s investigation found that drivers are rarely reimbursed for road damages, even though state law allows for reimbursements of up to $1,000 if road agencies knew about road defects and didn’t fix them.

Studies claim Michigan roads cost drivers some $4.3 billion per year, but the state and county road agencies have doled out less than $150,000 since 2018 for highway damage claims — or about the cost to resurface 1/10th of a mile of a highway.

Among other issues, the claims process is not well-advertised or understood by motorists: Of 83 county road agencies, only 20 have posted damage claim forms online or have readily available information on their websites about how to file one, Bridge reported.

The new legislation would assure drivers have 120 days to file claims for damages, whether the incident happened on a state or county road. Currently, Michigan has two conflicting laws — one of which requires claimants to seek damages within 60 days of mishaps on county-owned roads.

Shannon and Rep. Graham Filler, R-St. Johns, sponsored the legislation and said the bills would better protect both county road agencies and drivers. 

The bills are an “important bipartisan effort towards clarity and consistency in the law,” Shannon said during a Sept. 26 committee hearing. 

Filler told Bridge that 120 days of notice is “fair for everybody involved” and the standard that’s held up in the Michigan Supreme Court. Most counties now give motorists that much time to file claims, but codifying the practice would prevent future confusion and possible legal issues, he said.

Previous iterations of the bills had bipartisan support, but failed to become law after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer failed to sign or veto the legislation 14 days after the legislative session ended.

The County Road Association of Michigan, the Road Commission for Oakland County and the County Road Commission Self Insurance Pool, which handles liability claims for a majority of Michigan county road agencies, support the proposal. Michigan’s transportation department is neutral on the bill.

Negotiations on the legislation are ongoing, and changes are possible. 

The legislation was pulled from voting consideration for the committee’s Oct. 3 meeting, and Shannon said he and Filler are “working with stakeholders to get their input on how we get the best bill possible to address the issue.”

Filler said his top focus for the time being is making Michigan law clearer for claimants and counties. 

Changing longstanding practice on highway damage claims could “open things up for confusion and massive amounts of lawsuits,” he said, but added that he’d be interested in learning more if people with legitimate claims are having trouble. 


Michigan law allows drivers to seek damages under $1,000 for defective highways if road agencies knew or should have known about a defect “and had a reasonable time to repair it” before the mishap. 

The law defines “reasonable time” as a 30-day window between when the responsible road agency knew about it and when the incident occurred. 

Supporters of the current system say any money paid to drivers diverts from the pool of money available to fix roads, and that road agencies need adequate time to address road issues that come up. 

But others surveyed by Bridge Michigan said the Legislature could provide relief to drivers without breaking the bank. Past proposals have included setting aside millions of dollars in a pool for repairs, simplifying the claims process and raising claim limits beyond $1,000.

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