BRATTLEBORO -- If your vehicle is damaged due to the rough road conditions in Brattleboro, can you get reimbursed by the town for the cost of repairs?
Don't count on it, said Patrick Moreland, the town's Interim Town Manager.
"By and large, most of the claims, if not all, are not being paid on the basis of municipal sovereign immunity," he said.
Moreland, who described the conditions along Western Avenue as "deplorable," said municipal sovereign immunity bars claims made against a municipality that arise out of an activity of a governmental nature, such as the maintenance of roads and sidewalks.
If damages arise out of a failure of infrastructure that a municipality can prove it is doing its best to maintain, that municipality cannot be held liable, he said. Not only does this pertain to potholes in roads, he said, but also to incidents such as that in September of 2013 when the town's stormwater system was overwhelmed by five inches of rain in an hour-and-a-half.
"There was damage to property that arose from the stormwater system being unable to handle that volume of water," said Moreland. "We have a system. We maintain it. An act of God, in essence, overpowered it. In that situation, the state would say no claim can be made."
As proof the town is attempting to maintain Western Avenue against the changing elements, he pointed to the fact that the Department of Public Works has been laying down up to three tons of patch materials a day, weather permitting.
With below-freezing temperatures forecasted for the next few days, Moreland is hoping DPW can make as many repairs as possible before the next freeze-and-thaw cycle begins anew.
"Each time we get a thaw or a rainstorm, the patchwork comes apart."
Moreland's office, the director of the Department of Public Works, the town's financial officer and its Selectboard are all considering how best to address Western Avenue this spring and summer, he said.
Until then, Moreland encouraged drivers to slow down throughout the town and contact their car insurance agents to determine if road damage is something that is covered under their personal policies.
"I can only imagine how frustrating it can be to be broken down on the side of the road because of a pothole," said Moreland. "It's also frustrating for us not being able to provide them with the satisfaction they desire."
Nevertheless, Moreland encourages those whose vehicles they believe have been damaged by the town's road conditions to file a claim through his office to help the town document the extent of the problem.
"They are certainly welcome to contact the Town Manager's office and we can facilitate them filing a claim with our insurance company, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns," he said. "The reason this is important is that there is concurrent jurisdiction between the town and the state on this stretch of the road. We are in regular communication with the state, which as indicated resurfacing of this area will occur sometime in the 2020 to 2025 range. We think that may not be soon enough."
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.
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