Local authorities across the UK forked out £24 million to motorists last year for damage caused by poorly maintained roads.
But cash-strapped councils have discovered that they can avoid paying compensation without resorting to expensive road repairs.
In a recent case, council insurers argued that the paint around a pothole proved that road workers were aware of the defect and it was in their schedule to be fixed
They claimed that proved a “reasonable inspection and repair system”, meaning the authority wasn’t liable for damage to vehicles.
Brenda Sandham, 72, and her husband James, 80, were travelling home from a week’s holiday in Bonchester Bridge, in the Scottish Borders, when they hit a pothole near Canonbie, Dumfriesshire.
The shaken great gran, from Cockerham, Lancaster, managed to guide her Volvo V70 to a halt and got out to find the two passenger-side tyres were “shredded”.
She noticed the offending potholes had been marked with yellow paint and assumed because the council was aware of the problem, it would be easier for her to recover the £247 cost of replacement tyres.
But to her shock a letter from Dumfries and Galloway Council’s insurers said it would not be paying a penny.
Brenda explained: “They know the potholes were there and had marked around them. To me that doesn’t absolve them from liability, it seems ludicrous.
“What would have happened if the car had turned over and somebody was seriously injured?
“Would they say it is wasn’t their fault?” Since the accident on April 20, Brenda has been locked in a battle to recoup her cash.
But a letter from the council’s insurers insisted she isn’t entitled to compensation because the pothole had been marked four days before the accident.
It said: “At the last inspection of this location on April 16, 2013, a number of small defects were discovered.
“The council made the necessary arrangements for repairs to be attended to.
“These were assessed and categorised as requiring repair within the next available programme.
“Unfortunately the council could not complete repairs before your accident.”
The letter continued: “As the council has a reasonable inspection and repair system in place we do not consider they will be held legally responsible for this accident.”
Many similar cases have been reported across the UK.
Hugh Bladon, of the Alliance of British Drivers, said: “I think it is preposterous. The fact that they have not got round to doing it should not be a defence.
“I think it is grossly unfair she cannot claim compensation for the fact that there has been damage to her car.”
Dumfries and Galloway Council said it could not comment on individual cases.
But a spokesperson said: “Claims go first to our council’s local services, DGFirst, which carries out an initial investigation before the claim is processed and then passed to our claims handlers.
“All claims for compensation intimated to the council are regarded as public liability insurance claims.
“There is no automatic right to compensation and legal liability has to be established for a claim to be successful.”