Killer Pothole: Who Pays for the Damages?

In the News

The state of Quebec’s roads never fails to provoke a lively discussion. According to a 2023 report of Quebec’s Auditor General, nearly half of our roads are in bad condition. So, who pays if you get a flat after hitting a killer pothole?

The municipality rarely pays for vehicle repairs

If your vehicle suffers damages due to a pothole, your reflex may be to ask the municipality to cover the repair costs. However, by law, municipalities cannot be held responsible for damages to tires or car suspensions caused by the state of the road.

Éducaloi’s research of court judgments on this topic reveals that many motorists have tried unsuccessfully to sue municipalities for such damages. The bad luck of driving over a pothole that was not repaired in a timely manner is not enough — legally speaking — to force a municipality to open its purse strings.

But this immunity is not absolute

Municipalities benefit from this legal protection, but it’s not absolute. A municipality cannot avoid responsibility if it intentionally let a situation deteriorate or committed a gross fault, which the law defines as a fault resulting from gross recklessness, gross carelessness, or gross negligence.

In a 2007 case in Montreal, a motorist drove into a killer pothole that had a meter-long width and a depth of about 18 centimetres. The pothole had been left with no barricade or warning signs for two weeks. A judge concluded that the municipality was negligent and awarded the motorist $1178 to cover car repairs.

In French, a pothole is known as a “nid-de-poule” or “chicken’s nest”. The judge humorously stated that, unless we’re talking about giant chickens, this was no mere chicken’s nest! Had he pushed the joke further, he might have added that, due to the city’s negligence, its chickens had finally come home to roost!

How about on the highway?

Of course, potholes are not just found in cities and towns. They’re also on highways, which are the responsibility of the ministère des Transports du Quebec (Quebec department of transport). If you have the bad luck to damage your vehicle in one, your recourse would be against the Quebec government. But, unfortunately for motorists, the ministère benefits from legal protections similar to those shielding municipalities.