I dodged yet another pothole on the way to work this morning – it’s getting to be rather tedious if I’m honest. OK, so I know the councils budgets are rather stretched thanks to the giant pair of scissors that are David Cameron’s hands; but something needs to be done about it. In fact, if anyone watched Channel 4’s Selling Off Britain on Monday night, you might agree that there is room for a bit of financial redistribution to help us sort out the meteor craters littering our roads.
But – Where does the genuine duty lie? What are the councils and highways authorities responsible to do? You’d be tempted to say “naff all” given the current state of the roads; but there is a duty there. Under the Highways Act 1980, local authorities responsible for the highways have an important duty to ensure that the highway is reasonably and regularly inspected and maintained. What is classed as “reasonable” is largely down to the authorities themselves; they can range from monthly inspections, to three monthly, bi-annually, or even annual only inspections. It’s all about what is deemed to be reasonable and practical.
If a pothole or defect is reported, the rules change a little. The council now must make the area safe – either by reparations or cordoning off of the area etc, as soon as is reasonably possible. Again, that lovely ambiguous word “reasonable” is in there. How this can be measured is hard to tell. At the end of the day, it’s likely the local authority will put forward the “public purse” argument as to why they are not able to satisfy the safety of highway users.
So, what happens if you end up injured due to a pothole in the road / path, or a defective manhole cover, defective kerbing, or any other hazard out there on the highways? If the responsibility of whatever caused you injury lies with the local authority, you are probably in for a tough time. It’s best to seek the advice of a specialist injury lawyer right away – but as a warning for you now, if the council can prove they have kept up with their inspection and maintenance regime that they have deemed to be reasonable and practical, it’s likely you won’t have a claim.
The authority can rely upon a special defence known as Section 58 of the Highways Act – this means that if they can prove they have kept up with their inspection and maintenance regime, they are not liable to compensate you. This means in times of pothole perils like now, where several defects have popped up from the ground following a harsh winter, there are a lot of unhappy claimers who have been subject to having their claims refuted.
If you are the victim of a defective manhole cover, the law is in some way similar. It depends on who is responsible – if it’s the local highways authority or council (i.e. public sector), it’s likely it may fall under the same category as above. If it’s privately owned, say, by a water or power / gas company, you may have better luck, as they may not have any kind of system or regime in place. If a manhole is not secured properly or adequately, and it is allowed to be tampered with, you may have a claim.
We are specialist personal injury lawyers with a vast wealth of experience in dealing with all types of claims for personal injury. We won’t lie to you or give you false hope – at the end of the day, any lawyer can only act within the law. In a highways claim, you have the odds against you. So it’s always best to enlist the assistance of a fantastic, specialist injury lawyer – it’s the only we you can be guaranteed a chance of a successful claim.