Who is at fault for an accident caused by a pothole?
Wintry weather has had a visible impact on D.C. city roads. You may have noticed a recent abundance of potholes. Potholes form when water seeps through small cracks in the surface of the pavement. When the weather cools, this water freezes and expands, causing stress on the asphalt and the underlying surface. This stress causes the cracks to expand. Road salt, traffic and heavy snow plows cause more stress. The cracks grow even bigger. Over time, they become potholes.
Potholes can range in size from small, shallow depressions to large openings that are several feet across and several inches deep. A small pothole can get significantly bigger in just a few hours.
Suppose you notice a few small potholes on your way to work in the morning. They are too small to do damage, so you forget about them. When you go home that evening, the streets are crowded. You are worried about traffic, not potholes. You are watching the car in front of you when your wheel hits a huge pothole that wasn’t there in the morning rush. Your tire goes flat. And the driver behind you rear-ends your car. Whose fault is it?
What if the pothole causes you to veer to the left, so you hit another car?
In the first case, the driver who rear-ended you will be at fault. D.C. drivers must leave enough following distance to allow them to react to the unexpected. In the second case, you may be at fault.
Is this fair? After all, the accident wouldn’t have occurred if the pothole didn’t exist. However, you are responsible for noting road conditions and taking appropriate precautions. This means that you should slow down and drive carefully on roads that are known to have potholes.