Compensation for jogger injured by pothole

Posted: 9th February 2017

PotholeA lack of financial or personnel resources is no excuse for local highway authorities failing in their duty to keep roads safe for public use. The Court of Appeal powerfully made that point as it guaranteed full compensation to a jogger who fell into a pothole and badly injured his ankle.

A deep pothole in the road had been reported by a concerned resident to a council call centre in Barnsley on a Friday afternoon. The accident happened the following day. It was, however, not until the Monday morning that a road inspector learnt of the report and instructed workmen to fill in the hole. That was not done until the Tuesday.

The jogger, Lee Crawley, suffered considerable pain and could not weight bear on his left ankle for 10 days after his fall. However, his compensation claim was initially rejected by a district judge on the basis that the council had a good defence under Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980 in that it had taken all reasonable care to ensure the safety of the highway.

That ruling was later overturned by a more senior judge, who ruled the council liable on the basis that it was unreasonable that it had taken two working days after the report for the pothole to be repaired. The call centre staff should have been trained to evaluate the seriousness of potholes and instructed to contact the council’s emergency standby team if necessary.

In challenging that ruling, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council argued that it had a perfectly satisfactory system in place for dealing with potholes. It was a fact of life that most people do not work over weekends and the judge was said to have imposed too exacting a burden on the council, creating a damaging precedent for the future.

In dismissing the appeal by a majority, however, the Court emphasised that the council’s resources were legally irrelevant to its duty to provide a reasonable system for dealing promptly with hazardous potholes. The council had been obliged to make out-of-hours provision for potholes to be evaluated and for dangerous examples to be dealt with within 24 hours. The amount of Mr Crawley's compensation had yet to be assessed.