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Who should pay for my car damage caused by a pothole in a French road?

Use this process and French phrases if you want to claim for car repairs caused by a pothole in France

Car wheel in front of a pothole

Three different authorities are responsible for roads in France Pic: Youproduction / Shutterstock

Reader question: Who should pay for my car repairs if a wheel is damaged and tyre burst in a pothole?  

Whether you can obtain compensation for damage to your car due to a pothole depends in part on the kind of insurance you have.

If you have tous risques – comprehensive – insurance, then you should be covered for part of the costs if you make a claim.

The problem is that, in this case, unless you can get a third party to admit responsibility, there will usually be a franchise (excess) to pay, which can be substantial (€150 or more). 

Read more: What items must you legally have with you  in car in France?

What is more, in the absence of proof, your insurer might assume you were at least partly responsible and could note it in your insurance record with a potential impact on premiums.

So it is preferable to start by making a complaint to the authority responsible for the road and asking it to confirm the issue.

This will be the mairie for small local roads, the department for routes départementales, or the national state for routes nationales

The latter come under the responsibility of the direction interdépartementale des routes.

It is their responsibility to show that they correctly maintained the road and/or gave sufficient warning of the obstacle. Ideally, you need to get them to admit responsibility.

If you simply have au tiers (third-party) insurance, also called responsabilité civile, you are not covered but could seek reparations from the body responsible.

Read more: Can I add a French resident to my UK car insurance?

If, however, you have an optional garantie conducteur, it will assist in the case of any personal injury resulting from the accident and (depending on the terms) compensation for problems such as lost work days resulting from it.

You need to address your complaint by lettre recommandée avec avis de réception (registered post with reception slip) to the relevant body, with any proofs such as photos of the pothole and damage to the car. 

You could also include witness statements from locals or other motorists, if possible. 

You should include an estimate of the damage with a devis from a garage for the repair.

Such complaints can be refused if there is a suggestion you were going too fast or not paying attention, so lawyers recommend the wording that the accident was un évènement imprévisible et insurmontable, meaning there was nothing you could do about it.

Read more: What are rules should I hit a deer or boar while driving in France?

If you do not obtain a favourable response, there remains the option of taking the body to the administrative court for damages, but you will need an avocat (lawyer) to assist and this is unlikely to be worthwhile unless substantial damage to the car or harm to yourself is involved.

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