20190319_new_potholes

A vehicle drives through a pothole on 144th Street near U Street before the City of Omaha shut that section down to rebuild the street.

Maurice Bailey got his pothole claim paid.

Back in late January, Bailey drove his Ford Mustang over a pothole along Saddle Creek Road and quickly knew that something was wrong. He ended up needing two new tires, wheel repairs and work on the Mustang’s struts — an almost $1,200 fix in all.

Bailey filed a claim with the City of Omaha seeking compensation, only to be denied in accordance with the city’s policy against paying pothole damage claims and in line with state law.

But after The World-Herald highlighted Bailey in reporting that the city has long denied every pothole claim — even in this rough pothole season — his situation changed.

Mayor Jean Stothert opened a temporary window in which the city would pay pothole claims in what she called a show of good faith toward drivers whose cars were damaged.

Now Bailey is among the first 68 people to receive compensation from the city — $500 to cover his deductible after he filed with his insurance company.

Bailey said he believes that the city should regularly pay some pothole claims, not just for a one-time policy change.

“It is something that they should maybe set aside money for. … It just makes sense,” he said.

As of last week, the city had paid out claims totaling $21,692.37.

But the city has a lot more claims to process. People filed a total of 2,393 claims as of Thursday. So far, 1,504 claims seeking $727,026.60 have been assigned a claim number. More than 150 claims have been denied.

Stothert said it takes a long time for city staff to get through the claims. Some claims have included costs for work such as oil changes, oil filters or air conditioning repairs, she said. Other claims came in for damage from potholes outside city limits, in private parking lots or on the state-maintained Interstate.

“We’re not paying that,” Stothert said.

And Stothert announced Friday that, as of Saturday, the city would stop reviewing claims under the more open policy.

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The city has been tracking exactly how active the pothole season has been. It says that from March 18 through May 23, it filled 55,648 potholes with an estimated 7,800 tons of asphalt. In that time, the city had almost 27,000 potholes reported.

The claims paid point to the damage some vehicles sustained this year.

Liz Huliska of Omaha said her 17-year-old son hit a pothole near 156th and Blondo Streets late at night, destroying two tires. The Huliskas filed a claim and will be paid $301.43, everything except the extended warranty cost on the tires, Huliska said.

“They came through,” she said of the city. “They did not have to do this. We are thankful they did it.”

Jack Cheloha, the city’s lobbyist, filed a claim after his 17-year-old daughter hit a pothole on Underwood Avenue in Dundee, he said. The car’s front end needed to be aligned, Cheloha said, and one tire sustained a split. A week later, he said, a second tire developed a bubble.

Cheloha said that after the mayor reversed the city’s policy, he decided to file a claim. He received $493.63.

Nazarth Carroll of Omaha said he still hears a clinking noise on his car even after settling with the city.

He said he busted one tire hitting a pothole on 72nd Street, got it replaced, then busted two more a few days later on Ames Avenue.

“I couldn’t miss it,” he said. “I tried to miss it.”

Carroll said he’s still angry about the situation and wishes that he had gotten his car inspected. He received $265.68.

“That’s just not enough,” he said.

Jeff Robb dives into data for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @jeffreyrobb. Phone: 402-444-1128.

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