Tucson Potholes and What To Do About Them

by Doug Zanes | Last Updated: December 1, 2014


We have all experienced them…

The unnerving jolt of driving through them…

The complaining (sometimes cursing) as we feel the tires of the car lift from under us and come crashing down…

Even the tense victory of swerving to avoid our front tire cascading into what seems like a giant crater.

Whether you have experienced hitting a pothole or not, we’re sure everyone knows about them. If you mention them in casual conversation, you are sure to get a rise from your peers. In fact, Tucson potholes alone have their own website and even a blog where residents post photos and share their frustrations.

City officials report a total of more than $30,000 in damage to cars caused by potholes in the last two years.

Who paid? The city.

And who is reaping the benefits of these damages? Local tire shops!

“Every day we get people who come in that have hit potholes,” said Corey Layton, President at C&J Tires and Wheel. Layton added that drivers who came in with tire damage were usually pretty angry. The damage could cost them anywhere from $100 to $500, and even more if the rims had to be replaced.

Officials highlight that although the city may pay out drivers for the damage done to their car, reporting the potholes to the city itself is the sole responsibility of the driver. In other words, if the city does not document it, the pothole doesn’t “exist.” Filing a claim becomes useless.

Tucsonans have documented potholes and their invoices from the tire shops.

“The city, no questions asked, sent me a check,” said one local driver. But when asked what proof the city needed to pay a claim, officials stated that “if damage estimates were more than $1,000, the city required two estimates, photos of the damage, a location and time of loss, then the city would review the area, and risk management would conduct an internal review before writing you a check.”

To report potholes in the city of Tucson, you can call (520) 791-3154 or email TDOTStreetsTrafficMaint@tucsonaz.gov.

Pothole Formation and Repair

If you drive on Tucson roads, you surely encounter potholes. There are many around the city, and new ones begin to form almost every day. Some potholes resemble small cracks and might not be noticeable to drivers, while others might span the length of a traffic lane and feel like they could swallow up your entire vehicle. The longer a pothole goes ignored by the city, the larger and more dangerous it can become.

As road use increased in the second half of the 20th century, so did the wear and tear on roads. However, the repair of many roads did not increase at the same rate, leaving hazards such as potholes unchecked.

Potholes form due to a combination of changing temperatures, water, and cracks in the pavement. In many cities with regular freezes in the winter, potholes might form due to the cycle of freezing and thawing. However, even warmer areas like Tucson can have plenty of potholes.

Modern Road Construction and Potholes

Most modern roads involve angular stones that get compressed together, and this type of road can exist over dirt or bedrock. There are three layers to most roads, including the base, a sub-base of bigger stones, and a surface layer of tightly woven smaller rocks held together by a petroleum mix that should accommodate different climates and weather.

Road design should aim to prevent water from accumulating on the pavement, and the construction should channel water to each side of the road to avoid dangerous pools of water in traffic lanes. Even with this design, however, water still makes its way under the pavement. Once the water compromises the pavement and causes cracks, water can seep into the road even more and cause potholes to form.

Heat in Tucson can also deteriorate pavement and cause cracks. Once water seeps into road cracks, it can erode the subsurface road layers and wash out materials that support the road surface, causing gaps between the layers. As traffic passes over this weakened road, the surface layer can sag, crumble, and collapse, leading to pothole formation.

Pothole Repair (or Lack Thereof)

Every city deals with the need for pothole repair, and as soon as one gets repaired, it seems like another pops up. Many municipalities fall behind on repair due to a lack of workforce, focus on other major road construction projects, or a lack of funds. The longer a city waits to fix a pothole, however, the more it will cost in the long run.

In the past, pothole repair involved hot mix, a heated mixture of materials that often left roads bumpy. In recent times, more and more transportation departments use a “cold mix” asphalt, which can make repairs smoother and more efficient. These repairs can withstand water and traffic shortly after repairs, they involve less hazardous materials for work crews, and the repairs tend to last longer than previous repair efforts.

With successful innovations in pothole repair in recent decades, you would imagine that crews would be on top of needed repair efforts. Anyone who drives in Tucson, though, knows otherwise. Potholes continue to persist across the city, causing damage to vehicles far too often.

How Potholes Cause Car Damage

Most vehicle designs allow for smooth travel on well-maintained roads. Unless you have an off-road capable vehicle, hitting a pothole or another type of road hazard can be concerning. Even 4×4 vehicles can sustain costly damage if they hit a hole on the pavement at higher speeds.

While many different things can go wrong with your vehicle after hitting a pothole, the following are some common problems that drivers face.

Tire Damage

Suddenly hitting a pothole can put stress on your tires, and a sudden air shift in a tire can lead to a complete tire blowout. It is similar to squeezing a balloon the wrong way, as the pressure can cause the balloon to pop.

Tires can also lose air pressure due to hitting potholes. Just because your entire tire does not completely blow out does not mean you are in the clear. The tire might sustain internal damages, causing it to bulge and weaken. This often leads to the need for a tire replacement, which might require you to replace two or even four tires all at once.


A pothole can also damage the wheel itself instead of merely the tire. If you hit a pothole, it can bend or crack the side of a wheel, which means the wheel will not roll as smoothly as it should. Pieces of a wheel can also dent or break off, and if you can see any visible damage, you should likely get a replacement wheel.

Steering and Suspension

Potholes can also affect various components of your suspension and steering systems, and hitting a pothole can throw your system out of proper alignment. This can cause your vehicle to pull to one side or create other handling issues. Alignment issues can also result in premature and uneven wear and tear on your tires, which can result in purchasing a new set much earlier than you would otherwise need to. Alignment issues are so common due to potholes that many repair shops have “pothole season” specials, though this does not mean that such repairs are inexpensive.

Who Pays for Pothole Damage and Repairs?

Hitting a pothole is often unavoidable, so you might feel like someone else should cover all of your repair costs. Who might be responsible for your repair bills for pothole damage? The answer will depend on the specific circumstances of your pothole encounter.

The first step in determining liability for your repairs is determining which entity was responsible for the upkeep and repair of the road where the pothole existed. Was it an interstate highway? A residential street? A state route? This is important to identify possible liability.

If you hit a pothole in Tucson, chances are that the Tucson Streets and Traffic Maintenance department is responsible for pothole repair, which makes them liable for a failure to repair potholes. If the pothole was in a private neighborhood with its own community association that should repair the streets, the association should be responsible for repair costs. The same goes if the pothole was on a parking lot owned by a private entity.

Filing a Claim for Reimbursement

If your claim is against a private party, you can file an insurance claim with that party’s insurer for the costs of your repair bills. This is similar to filing an insurance claim against a private party for car accident damage.

However, the situation can be quite different if a public entity was responsible. This is because Arizona, like every other state, has specific rules regarding lawsuits against the government. For the most part, the government has immunity from lawsuits by private citizens. There are exceptions to this immunity set out in the Arizona Tort Claims Act.

If you are eligible to file a claim against the Streets and Traffic Maintenance department – or another public department – you must begin the process within 180 days of the incident.

You must file a claim in writing and include:

  • How the damage occurred
  • The nature of the damages and costs of repair
  • Other documents and information to support your claim

If you file this information after 180 days pass, the government can deny your claim, and you cannot seek compensation in civil court. Some local entities might have different deadlines than 180 days, so always discuss this with a lawyer as soon as you can.

Once you file the right forms with the right entity, the government should respond within 60 days to accept or deny your claim – otherwise, you should consider your claim to be denied. If you receive a denial or no response, you can proceed with your lawsuit against the entity in court to seek damages for your repairs and other losses.

Will Auto Insurance Cover Pothole Damage?

In some cases, you might file an insurance claim for pothole damage, and you should review your policy for possible coverage. However, if you have a deductible, seeking insurance benefits might not make sense. If your tire and wheel replacement was $600 and you have a $500 deductible, the insurer might only cover a small fraction of your repair costs, and then you might experience a rate increase.

You also might want to check to see if you have insurance from the tire manufacturer for damaged tires. This is a beneficial solution for many people, and you want to discuss all of your options with a trusted attorney before you file any claims.

Because of the specific requirements of a claim against a local or state government and the other complexities that might arise, you need a pothole damage lawyer on your side before you begin taking legal action. Due to the short time limits, you do not want to wait to consult with an attorney from Zanes Law Injury Lawyers today.

Accidents Resulting from Potholes

Another problem that potholes can cause is car accidents. Sometimes, a driver will hit a pothole, the tire will blow out, and the driver will lose control of the car. This is especially common on the highway at higher speeds.

Whether you lose control and hit another car or another driver loses control and hits you, a pothole—not a driver—may have caused the accident. If the other driver tries to blame you, you must take the necessary steps to show that you were not negligent. On the other hand, if another driver crashes into your vehicle, you both might have to go after the government to recover for your losses, unless you can show that the other driver was negligent in some manner.

If you were in a crash due to a pothole, consult a Tucson car accident attorney immediately. We can help to assess your best options and prove liability for your car damage, injuries, and other losses.

Proving Your Claim

Whether your pothole incident caused damage to your vehicle, injuries, or both, you must prove that another party should be liable for your:

  • Repair estimates
  • Costs of a rental vehicle or other transportation during repairs
  • Medical bills
  • Lost income
  • Pain and suffering

You will need to provide evidence that sufficiently proves:

  • The government entity or property owner knew or should have known about the pothole
  • The party failed to properly address and repair the pothole
  • The pothole caused damage to your vehicle or collision and injuries
  • You suffered losses, such as repair costs or medical bills, as a result of the pothole

You can bet that a government office will not simply accept liability in most cases. Instead, they might claim they couldn’t have known about the pothole or that the pothole was not the cause of your accident. They also might try to reduce your compensation by challenging the full amount of losses you seek.

It is important to have the help of an experienced car accident attorney who knows how to gather and present evidence of your claim in a persuasive manner. Often, having the right legal help can result in a smooth case and swift payment from the government, possibly without the need for a court case. If the government denies your claim and you do have to go to court, the right attorney can represent your rights before the judge or jury.

Never Wait to Seek Help From a Car Accident Attorney in Tucson

Some people might not immediately think they have legal rights after hitting a pothole and damaging their vehicles. Always let an attorney who handles pothole cases assess your rights and legal options as soon as possible.

At Zanes Law Injury Lawyers, we know it’s difficult to bring a claim against the government, but we also know that it is sometimes necessary. We are ready to help, so please reach out for a no-cost consultation right away.

Doug Zanes
Doug Zanes: Founding Attorney Raised in Douglas, Arizona, and went to college at Arizona State University and graduated from law school at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas. Doug began practicing law in Phoenix Arizona in 1997.
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