Massachusetts law about potholes and road defects

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on road defects law.

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Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

Note: There are different laws depending on whether the problem road is a city or town road or a state road. Be sure to select the proper statute for your situation.

City or town roads: MGL c.84, § 15 Personal injuries or property damage from defective ways

State roadsMGL c.81, § 18 Defects in highway, liability

Selected case law

Gregoire vs. City of Lowell, 253 Mass. 119 (1925)
Municipality's knowledge of the defect is required.

Ram vs. Town of Charlton, 409 Mass. 481 (1991)
MGL c.84, § 15 is the sole remedy for damages from road defects on city or town roads.

Zacharer vs. Town of Wakefield, 291 Mass. 90 (1935)
Perfection is not required.

Web sources

Damage caused by roadway defect, Mass. Department of Transportation.
Explains the procedure for filing a claim for injuries resulting from a defect in a state road or highway. Of particular note is this: "there can be no recovery for property damage, only personal injury (limited to $4,000.00), in actions against the Commonwealth due to road defects. But if our investigation finds that the area was in an active construction zone, we will forward your claim to the contractor of the record." File a claim with the state for damage caused on state highways. Claims should be made within 30 days of the incident.

Pothole damage on city or town roads should be reported to the Department of Public Works or highway department of the community where it happened. Sample Notice of Claim Form:

  • Boston: If you incurred damages or injuries caused by roadway and sidewalk defects or potholes within city limits, seeking a reimbursement or were involved in a collision with a vehicle owned or leased by the city

Reports of road hazards and other road conditions should be made to MassDOT Highway Division for state highway issues, or to a town/city’s Department of Public Works for city roadways and sidewalks. Example of a municipal public works page: Boston Department of Public Works.

Print sources

“Cause of action against governmental entity for physical injury or property damage caused by defective design or condition of street or highway,” Shepard's causes of action, 10 COA2d 397.

Massachusetts tort law manual, 3rd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf, chapter 19, section 19.2.4 Road defect cases.

Motor vehicle law and practice: with forms, 5th ed. (Mass. Practice v.12) Thomson Reuters, 2021 with supplement. Chapter 13B Suits against the government--Defects in ways and highways.

Municipal law and practice, 5th ed. (Mass. Practice, v. 18B) Thomson/West, 2006 with supplement.  Chapter 23, Sections 23.22-23.25 Defects in ways, etc.

Roadway safety and tort liability, Lawyers and Judges Pub. Co., 2004.

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Last updated: October 31, 2022

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