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Massachusetts law about potholes and road defects

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

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, s.15
Personal injuries or property damage from defective ways (City or Town Roads)

State RoadsMGL c.81, s.18 Defects in Highway, Liability (State Roads)

Selected case law

Gregiore 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, s.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 form 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. (If the area was in an active construction zone, your claim will be forwarded to the contractor of record.)." 

See a pothole? Contact MassDOT, 2014.
Explains how to report a pothole you might see. 

Pothole damage on city or town roads should be reported to the DPW 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"

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, ch. 19, “Defects in public way cases”

Motor Vehicle Law and Practice, Mass. Practice, v.11, c.4B (Defects in Public Ways), Thomson/West, with supplement

Municipal law and practice, Mass Practice, v. 18B, ch. 23, “Defects in ways”

Roadway Safety and Tort Liability, Lawyers and Judges Pub. Co., 2004

Contact

Phone

Within Massachusetts only

Within Massachusetts only

Online

Reference librarians online Chat with a law librarian 
Reference librarians via email masslawlib@gmail.com

Address

Administrative office (no law library at this location)
2 Center Plaza
9th Floor
Boston, MA 02108
Last updated: April 18, 2018

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