Oakland paid out more for potholes than police force cases

Oakland has paid out far more to settle pothole injury cases than excessive force and wrongful death police cases in the last five years, according to a data analysis by KTVU.

And in fact, a city-by-city comparison of Oakland, San Jose and Fremont shows that Oakland has paid the most of the three to settle pothole suits and the least amount of any city to settle police cases. 

From 2018 to 2023, Oakland paid $27 million to people injured from pothole accidents – like severing arteries by tripping on a pothole or breaking bones by riding bicycles over potholes, legal settlement and payout information from the city attorney's office shows. 

In that same time period, Oakland paid out $1.7 million to settle police force cases. 

The comparison between potholes and police payouts in Oakland is a poignant one. 

Before the Oakland Police Department was put under federal oversight in 2003, excessive force police cost the city tens of millions of dollars.

For example, Oakland paid out $35 million for police misconduct cases from January 2011 to December 2021, and before that, Oakland paid out $57 million from 2001 to 2011.

The single biggest payout at the time was in 2004, when the city paid nearly $11 million for the notorious ‘Riders’ case, where police were accused of beating up Black men and planting evidence on them. 


At $27M, Oakland’s pothole payouts are the priciest of any Bay Area city

Oakland has paid the most in pothole lawsuit payouts out of any major city in the Bay Area over the last five years, a KTVU analysis of public records shows.

A KTVU investigation in 2020 found that Bay Area law enforcement agencies engaged in long-term reform efforts -- including having independent oversight like Oakland -- are paying much less in civil penalties for injuring or killing people compared to departments left to police themselves.

In comparison, two Bay Area cities that have either no or minimal oversight have had much larger police payouts stemming from wrongful death and excessive force payouts.

For example, Fremont paid $7.7 million over the last five years. That entire settlement went to the mother of Elena Mondragon, a 16-year-old girl who was killed while riding in a BMW driven by her boyfriend whom police shot at, but didn't harm, in 2017.  Fremont has no police oversight.

In terms of potholes, Fremont paid out $100,000 in claims over the last five years. 

San Jose, which has minimal police oversight in the form of an Independent Police Monitor, has paid out $23.5 million during the same time period and $8 million to settle all personal injury suits, which includes potholes. 


KTVU requested money damages for pothole injuries, as well as excessive force and wrongful death from Oakland, Fremont and San Jose from 2018 to 2023. This includes jury awards in lawsuits and civil settlements. In the analysis, KTVU did not include figures from traffic accidents that were not the result of an officer using force. This means we excluded some high-dollar amounts like a $12-million payout to Terry Baker in 2021 after an off-duty Oakland officer failed to stop at an intersection and crashed into her car, causing her permanent injuries. 

Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@foxtv.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez.