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Highways Claims: An Update Following Covid-19

View profile for Cristina Parla
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A recent press release from the RAC revealed that pothole-related breakdowns for the first three months of 2020 were more than during the same period last year. Whilst the statistics relate to drivers only, they seem to support the ‘pothole pandemic’ label attached to the UK.

However, if we look ahead the results could change due to the fact that in the current context other methods of travel i.e. walking and cycling have risen. If recent statistics are anything to go by, we might see a rise in personal injury claims from pedestrians and cyclists, but at this moment in time it is difficult to get a real flavour of things and only time will tell.

Will Covid-19 affect my chances of bringing a legal claim?

It remains the case that a local authority has a statutory duty to maintain the roads and footpaths inside its area of control but potentially there are additional hurdles to overcome.

If you have tripped, slipped or fallen and the accident was caused as a result of a defect on the highway, then it is possible that the Government’s imposed lockdown could have an impact on your personal injury claim.

Without going into the full ‘legal details’, in order for a claim of this nature to succeed, there are two main hurdles to overcome:

  • There must be an actionable defect.
  • Even if there is an actionable defect, a local authority may have a valid defence if they can show that the area is inspected on a frequent basis and no actionable defects were located during the most recent pre-accident inspection.

Points of consideration

My personal view is that highway inspectors and agents who carry out highway repairs are key workers and I would therefore expect routine inspections to continue and scheduled maintenance and repairs to be carried out even during the lockdown. However, I can see potential problems with the availability of materials to repair defects and the financial resources to cover the cost of those repairs.

Many sectors including the building and construction trades were affected by COVID19. This could have a ‘knock-on’ effect on the demand and supply of materials. If a local authority has had difficulty obtaining materials to carry out essential and scheduled repairs, then a court may take a sympathetic approach. In addition, a local authority may simply not have the financial resources to cover the cost of the repair work which could add weight to any defence.

Final thoughts

In the coming months, it will be interesting to see how local authorities respond to personal injury claims, which have occurred during the acute stages of lockdown. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that in the present climate, we have an increased number of potholes which coincides with the increased number of road users more vulnerable to injury. It is therefore more important than ever that the right remedy is available to anyone sustaining an injury due to the poor state of Britain’s roads.

If you are looking to pursue a personal injury claim as a result of an accident on the highway, my advice at this stage is to avoid going it alone, as this type of personal injury claim can be notoriously tricky at the best of times and the situation is now more dynamic than ever.