I recently acted for a client in connection with a claim against Essex County Council as a result of an accident on the highway.
The facts of this case are relatively straightforward but there were some slightly unusual factors afoot.
The accident happened at the bottom of the claimant’s sloping pathway outside her home address in Roydon, Essex. The pathway joins a pedestrian footpath in a fairly busy residential area.
On 26 June 2015, the claimant exited her property and proceeded to walk along the pathway outside her home address. Prior to the accident she used the pathway on a daily basis but, normally, turned left at the bottom of the slope. On the occasion of the accident she intended to turn right so she positioned herself towards the right of the pathway.
The claimant noticed a pedestrian walking past so she took a half stride to walk beside him. As she stepped down her right foot went into a pothole located directly at the bottom of the slope. (It is significant to note even though the claimant had walked in the vicinity of the pothole almost every day, she had simply failed to register it until the occasion of the accident.)
As a result of the accident, the claimant suffered multiple areas of soft tissue injury, including scarring of the knee and a sprain of ligaments around the knee joint which prevented her from caring for her disabled partner.
The legal bit
The claimant brought a claim against Essex County Council, (the “defendant”), under the relevant provisions of the Highways Act 1980. Under section 41 of the Act, the claimant must prove that the accident was caused by an actionable defect, and the defendant can rely upon a statutory defence if they can show that they have a reasonable system of inspection and maintenance in place.
The area where the accident occurred had been inspected on about three occasions prior to the accident, the most recent of which had taken place only two months before the claimant’s fall.
Interestingly, an inspection approximately one-month post-accident highlighted a defect with measurements of 0.4m x 0.2m x 40mm – but the defendant did not think it was dangerous to warrant repair, so the pothole was left for approximately three years before it was eventually repaired.
I prepared the claimant’s case against the defendant which was heard in Central London County Court on 05 August 2019. The claimant was represented by Stuart Brady of Ropewalk Chambers.
The Judge found that the pothole was dangerous and the defendant’s regime of maintenance and inspection did not allow them to rely upon a statutory defence. And to reflect the fact that the pothole was located directly outside the claimant’s home address, and she had failed to take proper care and pay attention, she was found negligent to the level of 30%.
This case clearly demonstrates that local authorities simply cannot get away with inspection inadequacies, and in situations where a claimant has descended in the vicinity of a defect every day, there are still grounds to pursue a personal injury claim.