What to Do if You are Hurt By a Detroit Pothole

Michigan residents know that our state has some rough roads. And Detroit potholes are some of the worst. If you are walking or riding a motorcycle and fall in one, it can cause serious injury. Who is responsible for that? The state, the city? What do you need to do to recover for your injuries?

Governmental Immunity Doesn’t Protect Cities from Unsafe Roads

You may have heard of something called “governmental immunity.” This is a legal theory that says that, in general, residents don’t get to sue the city or state they live in for causing personal injury. But when it comes to roads and highways, the Michigan legislature has made an exception. The law allows residents to file personal injury lawsuits against government agencies if a highway is not kept in reasonable repair or is not fit for travel, and it results in a personal injury.

The legislature may have made it legal to file a lawsuit against a city for potholes, but it didn’t make it easy. Within the first 4 months (120 days) after the accident, you need to serve the appropriate city official with a notice which states:

  • What made the road unsafe
  • The specific location of the defect or pothole
  • The nature of the defect or pothole
  • What injuries you sustained because of it

If you speak to an experienced personal injury attorney shortly after your accident, he or she can help you file the appropriate notices on time and with the right people to protect your claim.

Motorcyclist and Pedestrian Take Detroit Potholes to the Michigan Supreme Court

Recently, however, the City of Detroit decided it was going to make filing these notices of claims even harder. Even after their adjusters acknowledged receipt of two notices of claims sent to the City of Detroit Law Department, the lawyers of that department filed motions to dismiss two lawsuits because their notices were supposedly filed with the wrong person.

Detroit Pothole Causes Severe Motorcycle Accident

Dwayne Wigfall was riding his motorcycle along Algonac Street in Detroit on June 9, 2014, when he hit a pothole, suffering multiple injuries. Wigfall filed his notice of claim with the Law Department well within the 3 months, and a city adjuster acknowledged the notice on December 3, 2014. But that didn’t stop the city from later claiming the notice should have been filed with the city’s Corporation Counsel instead.

Trip-and-Fall Accident Creates Headaches Over Detroit Notice Requirements

Faytreon West wasn’t in any kind of motor vehicle when she was injured by a Detroit pothole. She tripped over a flaw in the pavement on Mansfield Street and was hurt. Her attorney too filed her notice of injury and highway defect with the city’s Law Department. To be sure all her bases were covered, West’s notice said:

“If you believe that this notice does not comply in any way with any applicable notice requirements, immediately contact the undersigned and any additional information required by statute, ordinance, rule, or regulation will be promptly furnished.”

The notice didn’t do any good. Even though an adjuster acknowledged receipt on August 8, 2014, the city attorneys still claimed the notice was not filed properly when it came time to take the matter to court.

The two cases came together in a recent Michigan Supreme Court decision Wigfall v City of Detroit, where the justices considered whether service on the Law Department was good enough, or if it needed to be addressed to the Corporation Counsel himself. Detroit Corporation Counsel, Lawrence T. Garcia, acts as the city’s principal attorney. He also leads the Law Department. All the other city attorneys, including the ones who filed to dismiss Wigfall and West’s cases, work for him. The Michigan Supreme Court said that by serving the Law Department where Garcia’s agents worked, they had appropriately served him to protect their claims.

Get Help After a Detroit Pothole Accident from Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys

If you have been seriously injured by the poor road conditions in Detroit, don’t let the city erect barriers between you and your claim. Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to prepare your notice of injury and protect your rights.

The Macomb Law Group, is a personal injury law firm in Clinton Township, MI. Our attorneys can help you review your options after a pothole accident. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured, contact Macomb Law Group and get our team working for you.


  • James Spagnuolo

    I began working in personal injury law more than 20 years ago, starting as a law clerk during my first year of law school at Wayne State University School of Law in Detroit. After passing the bar exam in 2002, I went on to become a partner at a series of law firms before opening the Macomb Law Group in 2017.

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