3 On Your Side Investigates: Cash Craters - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

3 On Your Side Investigates: Cash Craters

JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Pothole claims from drivers have cost Jackson taxpayers around a $100,000 since 2014, according to documents from the city.

During that period, the Jackson City Council paid out settlements to more than 300 drivers.

"It had grown to be so wide that it had blocked almost the entire street," said Jackson resident, Julie Skipper.

Skipper knows all too well just how damaging Jackson's streets can be. Earlier this year, a crater on Devine Street damaged her front bumper.

"Residents on the street had been calling 311 since at least February of the prior year. We actually threw this pothole a birthday party, celebrated it, decorated it for its one year anniversary," Skipper said. "There's a smart car on our street and I was genuinely concerned that car would get stuck in it."

Those who drive through Jackson, even rarely, have likely had a close call with one of those road hazards. Records from the city show that, from January 2014 to April 2016, the city paid out nearly $170,000.

"It is surprising that the city has addressed that. That's commendable," said Leon Hemphill, who works at Capitol Body Shop.

Hemphill believes that figure could be much higher, too. He said many customers come into the shop not realizing they can even file a claim with the city.

And in his line of work, he's seen just what those potholes can cause: suspension, tire, wheel damage, or even worse.

"I think that you can drive around and see the number of front end alignment shops and wheel distributors here. It speaks to the conditions of the roads here, it does," Hemphill said.

Several drivers left Facebook comments with their frustrations, indicating not every claim is paid.

"I was told to be patient, [that] I would hear something back," Aleshia Alexander wrote.

She said the claim, filed in May, has still not been fulfilled.

Mary Tullos said she hit what she thought was a hole on Jefferson Street outside WLBT.

"[The impact] ruined my bearings, and through (sic) my car off its alignment," Tullos wrote. "They denied my claim. Jackson is a joke."

City spokesperson Shelia Byrd says Jackson's Risk Management Division investigates each claim filed to find out whether the city is legally obligated to pay,

For example, if the accident is caused solely by weather conditions on streets and highways by rain or other hazards, the city doesn't have to pay anything, according to provisions found in the Mississippi Tort Claims Act.

Rain may also fool the driver into thinking the pothole is just a patch of water on the road.

"When you have a lot of rain, a lot of times the rain will fill up the pothole," Hemphill said.

However, it's not clear if that exception means the city could be held responsible.

"If they do something about it, it's a long drawn out process, and I figure it's like most things, where they say it's just not worth it," said Ritchie Perkins, who runs Bullock's Auto Repair.

What's not clear is how long it took Jackson officials to respond to the claims, nor how many were actually filed and denied, at least from the documents obtained by 3 On Your Side.

Skipper said she's not exactly optimistic about the process.

"If it's going to take over a year to get a 311 call responded to, if I submit a claim, how long will that take? And so, if I can just get it fixed myself, I may decide to do that," Skipper said.

Hemphill said that means a deductible that could be higher than the cost of the repair itself.

Over the last six months, public works crews have repaved, resurfaced and patched dozens of streets in the Capital City, using money from the city's One Cent Sales Tax.

Jackson even has two pothole patching machines to provide residents with temporary fixes.

Those efforts appear to be working, according to a 3 On Your Side analysis of claims from the last five years. Data shows the Capital City' is paying far less thus far in 2016 than the $56,000 spent last year on claims.

Still, Perkins said they're still seeing just as many drivers come into his shop with pothole claims.

"You can't just sit here and watch for potholes. You should be watching for more important things: kids, cars," Perkins said.

Byrd said if your vehicle is damaged by a pothole, you should file a claim with the city to start the process.

The city will notify you if it is not obligated to pay.

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