WELLSVILLE, Kan. – Michael Smith remembers July 19 like it was yesterday. That’s the day his truck was destroyed by a utility pole.
Smith was at work when he got the news from a family member. A city-owned utility pole holding tornado sirens had toppled over and crushed his 1991 F-150.
He was devastated to lose the only vehicle he owned. He immediately contacted the city of Wellsville. An employee told him to fill out paperwork and the city would submit a claim to its insurance.
"The insurance got back to me,” Smith said, but the news wasn’t good. "Due to no prior notification of anything wrong with the pole, it wasn't negligence on their part."
The insurance company wasn’t going to give Smith a dime.
However, photos taken that day show the base of the pole, which is exactly where it broke, was rotted. If the city had better maintained the pole, Smith argued, it wouldn’t have fallen on his truck. He presented his case to the city council.
“Their deal was if they paid me, if this were to happen to somebody else, they would have to pay them as well,” Smith said.
That’s why Smith called the FOX4 Problem Solvers. We called Wellsville’s city clerk, who argued the city isn’t responsible because strong winds had moved through the area that day.
The fallen pole, she said, was an act of God.
Kansas City Attorney Scott Shactman said that excuse won’t hold up in court if Smith can prove the city did a poor job of maintaining the pole.
“Reasonable maintenance would be at least checking on that pole during some reasonable course in its lifetime, whether that be monthly, yearly or whatever,” Shactman said.
FOX4 Problem Solvers did some digging, and according to industry standards, utility poles should be inspected for rot at least once every 10 years.
So how old is the pole that hit Smith’s truck and when did Wellsville last inspect it?
We filed an open records request to find out. The city told us it had no inspection records nor did it have records showing the age of the pole.
So where does that leave Smith who is having to borrow a car to drive to work? His only hope is to sue the city in small claims court to try and recover the estimated value of his totaled truck – about $1,000.
That’s something Smith never imagined he’d have to do.
“I've always known it as a community to take care of each other,” Smith said. “I'm not seeing that in this given situation.”