KIYC: Woman fights for compensation after car gets swallowed by sinkhole in Essex County

KIYC: Woman fights for compensation after car gets swallowed by sinkhole in Essex County

A woman whose car was swallowed up by a sinkhole last week in Essex County may be out of luck when it comes to getting help paying for a new vehicle. And a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds she isn't alone, because New Jersey law is stacked against drivers.
Lizette Pagan’s car was totaled when the ground gave way beneath her as she was driving through Branch Brook Park in Belleville on Aug. 9.  “I thought I was drowning,” Pagan recalled. “So I hope that fear goes away. Now, I'm just working to see how can I get a car.”

Pagan says her insurance company has already told her it can’t help. Her policy shows she has liability coverage only and this type of damage would only be covered under comprehensive coverage, which she does not pay for.
Pagan says she consulted with an attorney in hopes of collecting money from Essex County, which maintains the roadway, but experts say those claims rarely succeed.

“It's pretty well known in legal circles that New Jersey is one of the most difficult states to recover against the public entity for dangerous conditions on the roadway,” says consumer attorney Michael Galpern.
Galpern says that under New Jersey law, in order to collect against a public entity, drivers have to “prove that they knew or in the exercise of due diligence should have known about the problem and that they did not remedy the problem, that could have been remedied, and that their conduct was unreasonable,” he says.

How high of a legal bar is that? Kane In Your Corner dug into the data and found that in a five-year period, from 2014 through 2018, drivers filed more than 6,000 claims with the New Jersey State Treasurer’s office due to damage caused by road hazards on state-operated roads and highways. The state paid on just 69 of those claims. That’s a success rate of just 1.1%.

If you’re determined to beat those odds, Galpern says you should start by finding out who maintains the road, so you submit your claim to the right agency. You’ll also need to file within 90 days.
Anthony Puglisi, director of public information for Essex County, says the county has yet to receive a notice of claim from Pagan or her attorney.