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A Pothole Can Cost You Your Career

Here’s how to get the City to fix roadway defects

Throughout the decades we have spent representing New York City firefighters, we have seen more than a few members lose their careers because of potholes. Yes, potholes.

We have had cases where firefighters have tripped on potholes while getting out of the rig, or while getting equipment off of the rig. Sinkholes and potholes in the road can damage vehicles and injure passengers, including firefighters who spend a lot of time on the road.

Many of you already know from our prior newsletters that anytime a municipality (e.g., the City of New York) is responsible for an injury, the accident
victim has just 90 days to file a notice of claim for the incident. But when it comes to potholes, there is
another requirement that you have to know about: “prior written notice”.

What is the City’s obligation to repair roadway defects?

The City can only repair the potholes that it knows about. In fact, under the law, the City is not responsible for injuries that occur on its streets or sidewalks, unless its Department of Transportation receives written notice of the defective condition, or acknowledges the defect in writing at least 15 days prior to the accident.

Nowadays, when people want to report a problem in the road, they usually call 311. While there’s no harm in doing that, it is certainly not the “prior written notice” that the law requires. Therefore, it’s not necessarily going to get the problem fixed anytime soon. And if a firefighter is hurt because of the defect, the City will not be on the hook for it.

If you want the pothole fixed fast, you have to put it in writing. If the City fails to repair the pothole within 15 days, the City becomes liable for injuries caused by the pothole.

What information should the letter contain?

The letter reporting the defect should contain the borough and neighborhood where the pothole is located, the name of the road and the nearest cross-streets, the street address, if available, the direction of travel, and any nearby landmarks.

Where should the letter be sent?

Send the letter with the information listed above to:

Commissioner of the Department of Transportation
New York City Department of Transportation
55 Water Street
New York, NY 10041

What else can I do?

You can also reach out to your community board. There are 59 community boards in New York City, and each one regularly reports to the City about work needed in their communities. If you want a defect fixed more quickly, enlisting your community board may help.

What about defects in front of my firehouse or at the training facility?

The firehouse apron gets a lot of wear and tear. When the pavement starts to break down, the officer should request repairs from the City right away. Since it is the FDNY that is responsible for repairing the apron, it must be on notice of the defect. The same goes for defects on Randall’s Island, or other FDNY facilities.

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