Questions have been raised over the number of successful compensation claims made by motorists whose cars suffer damage as a result of hitting potholes on Northumberland’s roads.
New figures show that fewer than 20% of pothole damage claims made against the county council are being paid out by the authority’s insurers.
Between December last year and the end of May there were almost 600 claims made by drivers – of which 100 resulted in compensation payments.
Now Conservative county councillor Glen Sanderson has called for the figures to be compared to those from other rural authorities across the country.
He says he fears Northumberland is being “overly mean” in paying out claims for damage caused by the county’s potholed roads network.
Earlier this year the AA reported that car insurance claims for pothole- related damage on Britain's roads had more than doubled in January, compared to the same month last year. It said that in just over four weeks, an estimated 1,000 cars were seriously damaged by potholes.
The AA has pointed out that if a highways authority has been notified of a road defect it may be liable for damage caused, and has urged drivers to report such hazards.
It has also expressed serious concern about the deteriorating state of Britain’s roads following bouts of flooding, ice and snow, claiming that unless the Government stems the pothole epidemic the cost of claims will soar.
Yesterday, Coun Sanderson said he had asked for the figures on pothole-related insurance claims because he is not convinced the county council has a “fair” system for paying compensation in such cases.
“I wanted to know what percentage of claims are being paid out, and I believe it can be anything between 5% and 25%. I intend to follow this up and examine the procedure we are using.
“People don’t claim for pothole damage spuriously or unnecessarily, and often it is because of serious damage caused to vehicles. It looks, on the face of it, that the council is being overly-mean in paying out what are perfectly reasonable claims.”
He said the council could consider putting more tolerance into the system for assessing claims, and also introduce an appeals process for those whose claim is turned down.
A council spokeswoman said all compensation claims for pothole-related damage are assessed on their individual merits against set criteria, which is determined by “statutory duties” defined in the Highways Act 1980.
“Under this Act the council is required to prove it operates a reasonable and adequate system for highway maintenance and repair, and that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that the highway is safe. Such a system must consider inspections, efficiency of repairs, defects standards and systems of documentation.
“Northumberland County Council has such a system in place, with inspection frequencies and maintenance carried out in line with the recommendations published by the Local Authority Association’s highway maintenance code of good practice.”