That time I fought City Hall…

If you don’t live in a place where the weather changes in extremes, this may not be something that will resonate with you.

But if, like millions of people around the world (but especially in northern North America), you happen to have planted yourself in a place where the roads can literally melt in summer, then turn around and crack with the cold six months later, this is a story you’ll want to hear.

Last winter was terrible in Calgary and it probably seemed as though everywhere you drove, the roads were coming apart.  Cracks and fissures, sure—the symptom of a freeze-thaw-freeze then thaw again cycle that is pretty much out of everyone’s control–unless we get our asses in gear and do something about climate change, but even then…I’m pretty sure we won’t be avoiding what many of us sarcastically refer to as “pothole season” around here.

There was a road, for example…a main east-west thoroughfare through the city (I’ll give you a hint: this is a road that starts in Newfoundland and ends on Vancouver Island) where a significant stretch of it had holes in it for weeks. You’ve heard the saying “a mile wide and an inch deep”? That’s what this stretch of about 200 metres (that’s just over a tenth of a mile) looked like, and every morning as I passed by in the other lane (because I knew it was there), I watched cars veer and swerve or, if they didn’t know it was coming, bump their way through this very rugged and very damaging stretch of road.  And every day I wondered three things: a) how many cars have been seriously damaged by this, and b) hasn’t anyone called the city about this and c) if b, then why doesn’t it get fixed?

One morning I noticed it was patched, but I have to say I think that day was probably six to even eight weeks from when I first noticed the broken blacktop.

I only had to drive over the area once to make the deviation to the left lane—that’s usually all it takes to remember what not to do. But when you don’t know it’s coming…..

Travel back to May of this year….it was a late on a Wednesday afternoon, closing in on dinnertime.  I was driving to get my nails done and had just crossed a major intersection when

Wham! Bang!

tire damage 2
Pfffffffffftttt…..

I hit something really, really hard.  I heard a loud hiss and pulled into the parking lot directly on my right, which was, coincidentally, exactly where I was headed. I put the car in park, and got out to look, not exactly sure I wanted to see what had happened.

There, on the passenger side of car, both of my tires were dead or dying; one was completely flat and the other had a massive bubble in the wall and was clearly fatally

tire damage 1
The big bubble

wounded.

What the hell did I hit??

I looked out on the road, and there was a depression—not a pothole exactly but rather a long rut in the right hand lane on the right hand side.  Long enough that both of my tires hit the hole just so…..just so they’d both blow up.

tire damage 6
Exactly my car’s length, one hole, then a second one and I hit ’em just wrong (sorry about the litter; it wasn’t me)

Well, shit.  Summer tires I had just put on and had balanced. Worse than that—good wheels.  Had I damaged them or some other part of my car? It wasn’t looking good.

I called, in order, the city (got a claim number), my insurance company (probably not worth the deductible increase), and the auto club for a tow (in 12-14 hours…are you freaking kidding me??).  Then I went in and got my nails done, cuz what else was I going to do.

The ladies in the shop all commiserated with me and said I wasn’t the first to hit the hole and wouldn’t be that last.  Small comfort in that.

I took the bus home.

2 am the next morning, the tow truck finally came (needed a flatbed, which I guess was part of the wait, and of course I needed to be there) and took the car to the tire place. Five hours later, I’m back at the tire place, learning that because of the wear (which wasn’t too significant, but wear nonetheless) and the brand of my car, I’m going to need four new tires, not two.

Four tires, balance, alignment….almost $1100. Not how I was expecting to spend my money in May.

Over the next few days, I chatted with a city rep to see how to get some compensation for falling into their hole and exploding my tires. I talked with a guy who basically told me it wasn’t going to happen-that the city has a rationale for not reimbursing people for this sort of situation (well, if they reimbursed everyone, they’d go broke; that would be one good rationale, I suppose). I posted my sad tale on FB and was actually surprised at the number of people who had had the same thing happen, who’d attempted claims against the city, to no avail.

But I was certainly going to give it a shot.

So I filled out the form, told my sad story, submitted some pictures and my receipts, and waited.

Late July: a letter arrives: nope, sorry, shit out of luck, no reimbursement for you. Nothing at all.  Go away.

The reason: the hole had been temporarily repaired at an earlier date and too bad for you that you fell in a newly opened hole. Sucks to be you, sorry bye.

Humph.

So I wrote a letter back and asked for the following, suggesting I was happy to file a Freedom of Information Request if required (called Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy in Canada;  So when you make a request you are FOIPing someone or something).  This is what I actually wrote:

“Any information on claims made about damage caused by the subject area in the road from September 1, 2017 until the time the city made repairs to the area, which your letter states was completed sometime prior to the damage to my car;

The date the temporary repair was made to the roadway;

Any information on claims made about damage caused between the time the temporary repair was made and the filed claim of my incident;

Any information on claims made between the time my claim was filed and the subsequent patching of the area;

The date the area was repaired following my claim.”

(Doesn’t it sound like I know what I’m talking about?  Or that I watch Judge Judy?)

Well, no response to that at all.  So just two weeks ago I sent a follow up, asking if there was something more required of me to gather this info, and I received a call back not ten minutes later, which I let go to voice mail.  Could I call back right away?  Well, sure I could.

Our conversation began as we discussed how the city collects its data—two very different numbers from the initial line to get the claim number (as many people as call; each gets a case number but not all file) and the city roads’ stats (one hole, one location, one set of claims).

It moves from there to my mentioning that I am lucky my wheels were not damaged or the undercarriage of my car and who-knows-what-that-would-have-cost, to well you know, asking for reimbursement for the whole amount for four new tires was unreasonable to I understand that but that’s what it cost me to fix this and it could probably have been worse but I am being pretty reasonable here, to well, we wouldn’t buy you brand new tires, and certainly not four, to but I don’t care you’re mean and you’re making me mad (ok I didn’t say that last part)….to

How about if we prorate two of the tires and pay for your balancing and all the taxes?

Wait, what? Did I just win, kind of?

(sound of calculator clicking)

509 dollars?  Oh, and 51 cents.

DEAL.

The check came on Friday and was in the bank on Saturday morning.

check
The check was, indeed, in the mail.

The adjuster made it clear that this is not the norm—that 98% of claims are rejected. So I guess that makes me part of the two per cent.

My advice?  Go ahead—fight city hall.  You can win. Stay calm, stay smart, stay polite but firm, be ready to logically argue your case…..what have you got to lose?

$509.51. That’s what. Score one for the little guy.

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