Man sues cities, alleges potholes caused crash

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published February 25, 2015

 Potholes on Stephenson Highway at the Royal Oak and Ferndale border appear patched on Feb. 18. Potholes in both communities along Stephenson in the location of Lennox and Mahan streets are at the center of a recently filed lawsuit.

Potholes on Stephenson Highway at the Royal Oak and Ferndale border appear patched on Feb. 18. Potholes in both communities along Stephenson in the location of Lennox and Mahan streets are at the center of a recently filed lawsuit.

Photo by Victoria Mitchell

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ROYAL OAK/FERNDALE — A lawsuit filed against the cities of Ferndale and Royal Oak alleges that both municipalities are responsible for injuries that a man sustained after hitting potholes in both communities.

Legal documents state that Hazel Park resident Michael James Rowan fell to the pavement, sustaining broken and bruised ribs, a broken left elbow and right shoulder, injuries to his arms and chest, and negative aftereffects from the crash.

The documents state that Rowan has spent a large amount of money for medical, hospital and prescription items and will continue to incur costs in the future. He seeks undisclosed restitution for medical bills and attorney fees totaling more than $25,000.

Attorneys for Rowan filed the lawsuit in Oakland County Circuit Court Jan. 30.

Attorney Susan Thomas, of the Law Offices of Jason Waechter, who represents Rowan in the case, declined to answer questions or comment on the case.

According to the lawsuit, Rowan was riding on southbound Stephenson Highway near Mahan and Lennox streets at about 6:48 p.m. on June 21, 2014, when he struck several deep potholes, which caused him to lose control of his 2003 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The area is south of Interstate 696 and west of Interstate 75.

The suit states that both cities owed a duty to the general public, including Rowan, to repair and maintain the roadways in their respective jurisdictions in a condition of reasonable repair and to be reasonably safe and convenient for public travel. The suit alleges that the potholes existed for more than 30 days, and both cities were aware that the potholes were there.

The suit also claims that the cities failed to make regular inspections to the roadway, repair it after knowing about the potholes for 30 days, and warn citizens of the road defects and hazards.

The attorneys for Royal Oak and Ferndale declined to comment.

The timing of the lawsuit hits right when freezing temperatures are bringing the issue of potholes to the forefront.

Diane Cross, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) spokeswoman, said the Metro Detroit area is already seeing a large number of potholes because of the freeze-thaw cycle.

Cross said cracks in the surface of the roadways allow water to get in. The water freezes and expands the crack, the ice then melts, leaving a hole or a weakened surface, and when any weight drives over it, a pothole occurs.

“Summer potholes are from the aging infrastructure of roads, which have a repair system of Band-Aids on them when surgery is needed,” she said. “But they are also weakened from the freeze-thaw cycle if water gets into the road surface.”

Cross said talk about the need for long-term infrastructure funding includes doing work that would help keep potholes from happening.

“That work includes crack treatment, resurfacing and even reconstructing of roadways,” she said.

Cross said anyone wanting to file a claim against the state for damage caused as a result of hitting a pothole may visit michigan.gov and search for “pothole claim.”

“But they must read all the details for what qualifies to file a claim,” she said.

Cross said claims against the state must also involve state trunklines, which are roads beginning with I, M, or US.

Oakland County Commissioner David Woodward, D-Royal Oak, spoke out on the issue of roads Feb. 19, saying he would like to see a proposed $75 million Oakland County property tax cut spent instead on fixing deteriorated roads, including doubling the county’s spending on fixing potholes annually.

“In a matter of months, our roads will resemble Swiss cheese more than concrete and asphalt,” Woodward stated in a press release. “We should double pothole repairs to make county roads safer and more driveable today.

“It’s a smarter and better use of county surplus, rather than $10 here and there over the next 10 years.”

Woodward said the Road Commission for Oakland County spends $5 million a year on pothole repair.

“It is another bad year for potholes,” said Royal Oak Director of Public Services Greg Rassel.

It is Royal Oak’s policy to repair hazardous potholes immediately and smaller potholes steadily as crews work through neighborhoods.

Rassel said pothole repair is not a seasonal activity, but rather as personnel is available.

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