Potholes – a personal injury hazard of our time
As we head towards spring, the cold snowy weather is still taking its toll on our roads. Potholes continue to be more than just an annoying feature of the UK’s road network – motorists, cyclists, joggers and walkers can often sustain serious personal injuries through coming into contact with this all-too-frequent hazard.
A report by Confused.com published in October last year found that 1,031,787 potholes were reported to local councils in 2016. Figures produced by Cycling UK show that in Essex, there are 2,989 potholes awaiting repair and in Hertfordshire the figure is 3,124. The Times recently reported that 467 cyclists had been involved in accidents at least partly caused by “poor or defective” roads in the past five years.
A pothole is generally defined as a hole in the road that is at least an inch in depth. Claims can also be made for defects in the pathway including raised paving or rocking kerbstones. The test for negligence depends upon whether the defect is considered dangerous.
County councils carry out regular inspections of the roads but also rely on the public reporting defects to them. They are required to inspect all reported defects and risk-assess them to prioritise their repair. They will either be classed as urgent or will be put into a planned programme of works to ensure they are repaired as efficiently as possible. The assessment will take into account many issues including the location of the defect in the road, and the type of vehicle that uses the road such as cars, motorbikes or bicycles.
How the law currently stands
The law recognises that local authorities cannot reasonably be expected to repair every defect as soon as it occurs, and instead imposes on them a duty to have a comprehensive inspection process in place. Local authorities can rely on a defence (known as a Section 58 defence) against highway defect claims, if they can show that they had a suitable system of inspection of roads and pavements in place and that they adhered to it. If the local authority can prove this, then they are said to have taken reasonable care and a claim is likely to fail.
Most local authorities adopt a system of inspection taking into account guidelines the Department of Transport. The system sets out how often they should perform inspections, how quickly they should check reported defects and, once checked, how quickly they should repair them. However the Court of Appeal decision in Crawley v. Barnsley MBC  has moved the legal position on a little in favour of claimants. A member of the public reported a pothole on a Friday afternoon, the next day Mr Crawley was out jogging and fell into the pothole, injuring his ankle.
At Appeal, two of the three judges agreed that the current system which makes no provision for the evaluation of potentially serious defects reported on Fridays and Saturdays and out of hours was not a reasonable one, and Mr Crawley won his case and received compensation.
Making a claim
You can make a claim against any authority responsible for maintaining the road you had an accident on. Claims can include physical injury, emotional trauma and lost earnings. It’s not just road conditions you can claim for, but conditions and visibility of signs and lighting levels as well.
You will need to prove the road, pavement or kerb was at fault for your accident, so make sure you get statements from any witnesses and take photographs of the scene and the hazard that caused your accident. This evidence will support your case and increase your chances of a successful claim.
You can also illustrate the size of any holes, faults or obstructions by including other items in the photo – keys, coins or phone cases give scale to the pictures, highlighting the severity of the problem and making your claim more accurate.
Attwaters Jameson Hill has recently been successful in securing over £8,000 for a local client who tripped on a moving kerbstone, suffering nasty facial and dental injuries. The local authority were aware of the defect prior to the accident but had not repaired it. We challenged the adequacy of the risk assessment for this defect, and the Court ruled in the Claimant’s favour, finding that the defect was dangerous, the risk assessment that was carried out wasn’t appropriate, and the kerbstone should have been repaired in a more timely fashion.
You should contact us as soon as possible, as any delays will weaken your case. We’ll be happy to advise you if you have suffered an injury due to a pothole or other road defect.