We acted for a man who suffered serious back injury when his bike hit a very large and deep pothole on a main road out of town. It had been raining and there was a lot of standing water on the road. He took the appropriate line through a corner, riding through what he thought was a puddle, but was in fact a pothole some 2 feet long and 4 inches deep. Naturally, the bike objected and spat him onto the tarmac.
Now, potholes and defects in the highway are a perennial source of trouble, and periodically there will be a surge of public outrage when particularly bad roads are not repaired. However, the law is not as simple as “pothole = crash = compensation”. The Highways Act only requires the local highway authority to keep the highways reasonably safe, not pristine. In short, even if there is a defect which causes an accident, the authority will probably be able to escape blame if it can show that it was operating a reasonable system of proper inspection, maintenance and repair at the time. In other words, unless the defect is so bad that any reasonable authority would have repaired it immediately, it can await its turn within a regular repair routine- and if you happen to crash because of it in the meantime, that is just your bad luck.
This was the defence raised in our case; but things became a little more interesting when we unearthed evidence from local witnesses that not only had this stretch of road been in an appalling state for 18 months because of heavy construction traffic visiting a nearby site; not only had there been numerous complaints by local residents and several claims for damaged car suspension in that time, paid by the council; but this very pothole had appeared before, had been repaired (badly) and had re-appeared and been logged by the council 7 days before our client’s crash. It was of such a size that under the council’s own criteria, it should have been isolated and repaired within 24 hours. Amazingly, even with this evidence, the council continued to deny liability right up to a few days before the trial was due to start, but then settled the claim at the last moment.
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