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Car damaged by a pothole? The city might pay you back

Michael Barsamian hit a pothole in Boston in 2013 and put in for the maximum payout for damage by the city.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Not all potholes are created equal — and some, such as a trio of teeth-rattling craters in Charlestown, have cost the city thousands of dollars in payments to drivers whose vehicles were damaged by the gaping cavities.

Just ask Agnes Viel, an Everett resident who struck a water-filled pothole on Rutherford Avenue three years ago as she was driving home. The city paid Viel, 49, $5,015 to repair her Lexus Gx460, the maximum allowed under state law.

“I was lucky. I got something,” said Viel, an accountant who claimed $8,000 in damage. “It’s their responsibility to take care of the road.”


Viel was one of the three motorists who received the maximum pothole payouts from the city over the past five years, and they all suffered their damage in Charlestown. One of the three was driving a 2005 Lamborghini Murciélago , which carried a base price of $320,000 when it debuted.

Between 2013 and last year, the city paid more than $163,000 to nearly 300 drivers whose cars were damaged by defects on Boston streets, records show. One street in Charlestown has resulted in more than $27,000 in payments, and another spot in Back Bay led to $23,000 more.

The drivers took advantage of a little-publicized state law that requires municipalities to reimburse people for property damage or personal injury caused by problems with their streets. The law says drivers can recoup a percentage of their vehicle’s value up to $5,000.

So drivers with more expensive cars are eligible for larger payouts.

In some cases, the city also reimburses the $15 filing fee.

In Boston, motorists must file a claim within 30 days of sustaining damage. If the incident occurred on a state road, repayment is only possible if someone was injured. The maximum payout on a state road is $4,000, state law says.


From 2013 to last year, the average settlement in Boston was $560.

Twelve claims have been filed so far this year, including six from drivers who say their cars were damaged at the same place in the Back Bay: where Huntington Avenue runs under Massachusetts Avenue, records show.

That spot has cost the city nearly $23,000 in repayments in the last five years. One $4,990 payout went to the owner of a Bentley Continental GTC, who hit a pothole there in 2013.

“You would think the multiple claims in similar spots would generate notice,” said Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog.

But Chris Osgood, Boston’s chief of streets, said that while motorists are encouraged to file claims for damage, those reports don’t drive decisions about which roads to repave. The city prioritizes repaving work, he said, based on reports to the 311 complaint system and engineering assessments.

“We do want to make sure people have a good safe experience on our roads,” Osgood said.

Paul Kastrinakis said the Somerville dealership where he leased his car encouraged him to file a claim after he hit a pothole near the Bunker Hill Monument during a storm four years ago. The impact flattened the rear passenger-side tire and bent the axle on a 2014 Mercedes Benz truck that he had leased the month before.

“The damage was astronomical,” said Kastrinakis, who was charged about $6,000 to repair the vehicle. The city repaid him $5,000.


The spot where his truck was damaged — the intersection of Soley Street and Monument Square — is still pockmarked with potholes. At least three were in the intersection on March 30.

Parts of Rutherford Avenue, the street where Viel hit a pothole, are still scarred by craters. In the last five years, the city has spent more than $27,000 to reimburse drivers after their vehicles were damaged there, records show.

Potholes develop during cycles of freeze and thaw, which lets water seep into cracks in the pavement and expand, causing asphalt to deteriorate under the weight of passing cars.

Workers recently filled about 10 potholes on the southbound side of the Rutherford Avenue underpass near Sullivan Square, where over a three-day stretch in mid-January, at least two drivers got flat tires, costing them hundreds of dollars in repairs, city records show. Both submitted claims for reimbursement.

That road is scheduled to be repaved this year, according to the city, which blamed the pothole problem on high water table levels and heavy traffic. Officials are also redesigning Rutherford Avenue as part of an effort to decrease congestion and improve the road for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Anthony Scott, 24, said he got two flat tires while driving south on Rutherford Avenue on Jan. 13. He said he submitted a claim for payment at the urging of his mother, a city employee. A police officer who helped him at the scene also told him about the claims process, Scott said.

“In that general area the road is pretty bad,” said Scott, who lives in Allston. The city paid him $258, records show.


Two days later, Everett resident Jim Booker hit a pothole in the same area while driving his 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage. The impact damaged two tires, but Booker said he replaced all four for more than $500.

The city repaid him $260, records show.

“The whole car just shook and I almost went into the stone barrier,” said Booker, who was commuting to his job at a group home in Quincy.

Booker said he sometimes travels the Tobin Bridge, a toll road, to avoid the spot where he damaged his car.

“Better safe than sorry,” he said.

The same problems that face Rutherford Avenue — high water table levels and heavy traffic — have also dogged Huntington Avenue, the city said. The avenue is scheduled to be repaved this year.

Michael Barsamian, the self-made beauty salon entrepreneur, hit a pothole there in April 2013, flattening two tires and damaging two rims on his 2013 Bentley Continental GTC. The damage cost more than $6,200 to fix, and Barsamian said his son-in-law encouraged him to make a claim.

“I said, ‘Are you serious? I’m not going to get anything for that,’” said Barsamian, who continues to cut hair on Saturdays at Lord’s and Lady’s Hair Salon in West Roxbury.

The city repaid him $4,990, records show.

Less than two years after Barsamian hit a pothole on Huntington Avenue, another driver got a $4,515 payment from the city for pothole damage sustained by his 2007 BMW 530xi, records show.


In January, another BMW owner driving through the underpass hit a pothole covered by snow and slush, causing more than $4,000 in damage, according to a claim filed with the city. The area was a hodgepodge of potholes and patches when a reporter recently visited.

“They never really fixed that underpass,” said Barsamian. “Maybe the mayor will get somebody over there and fix it right.”

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.