In the Land of 10,000 Potholes, Can You Fix Them Yourself?

In the Land of 10,000 Potholes, Can You Fix Them Yourself?

After another snowy winter, Minnesota is finally warming into spring. As the snow melts, we start seeing green grass emerging from beneath the snow, but that’s not all that is emerging – there’s also an abundance of potholes. As the Twin Cities are overwhelmed with the number of potholes that need to be fixed, many Minnesotans may be asking themselves, “Can I just fix this myself?”

The Risks of Fixing Minnesota Potholes on Your Own

The short answer, no. Now, you may think, well why not? It’s going to take the city weeks if not months to get around to all the potholes that need filling, so why not resort to self-help? In fact, Minnesotans have made headlines in the past for doing just that! However, instead of being applauded, rewarded, or reimbursed for your efforts by the city you live in, you may rather find yourself facing fines.

That may seem counterintuitive to the well-meaning city-dweller who wishes to follow in the footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger to help their neighborhood, but there is sound reasoning behind this.

Liability and Responsibility for Minnesota Pothole Repairs

So, why not? Liability. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is responsible for fixing potholes on state highways and interstates. As such, MnDOT may be liable for damage caused by potholes on these roads, granted that this may only be the case if MnDOT had prior notice of the needed repair and a reasonable time to repair or warn of the condition.

The rest of the roads – city streets and county highways and roads – are the responsibility of the city or county, which bear a similar liability. You can report potholes that need fixing to MnDOT, to your city, or to your county, depending on the location of the pothole, and that is truly the most lawful approach to addressing this issue. After being given notice, the responsible entity, be it your city, county, or MnDOT, must be given a reasonable time to make repairs. Still, the list of potholes will continue to grow, and the truth is that real repairs can’t begin until spring has fully sprung, and we are out of the freeze-thaw cycle.

Why DIY Pothole Repair in Minnesota Could Cost You Fines

But, what’s the harm in doing it yourself? Again, liability. As mentioned above, MnDOT may be liable for damage caused by potholes, and likewise cities and counties may be liable for damage caused by potholes. Who is liable depends on the location of the pothole.

You may be thinking, that makes sense, but if I’m fixing a pothole then am I not preventing damage? Well, that depends. If you do a stellar fill job, you may be helping your neighborhood. If you do a haphazard fill job, or even just a less-than-stellar fill job, you could be exposing yourself to unwanted liability. If your repair causes damage to someone’s car, they may see you as the responsible or liable party to go after.

Since MnDOT, cities, and counties are responsible for maintaining their respective roads, they are exposed to possible liability for negligence when potholes are not repaired in a timely manner, and they may also face a similar level of liability if their repair doesn’t stick or causes other damage. If you go out of your way to repair a public road, regardless of your confidence or ability to fill a pothole, your city, county, or MnDOT might take issue and you may face fines.

Javier Romay, a law clerk at Avisen Legal, P.A., wrote this article at the direction of Avisen Lawyer Kim Lowe in the hopes of helping all of us who live in the land of 10,000 potholes to know the law about what is in the news.

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Kimberly Lowe

Kimberly Lowe

For over 20 years I have lawyered from the trenches with experience based on a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of how both for-profit and nonprofit enterprises operate. I guide entrepreneurs, executive management teams, boards of directors, multigenerational families, shareholders and investors through all aspects of the business life cycle from formation to operation to exit. Read Kim's Bio.

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