Council must pay damages to resident injured by pothole, Court of Appeal rules

The claimant, Lee Crawley, was running in January 2012 in Barnsley when he fell into the pothole. He suffered ‘considerable pain’ and couldn’t weight bear on his ankle for 10 days.

The pothole in the road had been reported to Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council by a resident the previous day, at the end of the working week, but was not repaired until two days into the following week.

The council said it had taken all reasonable care to ensure the safety of the highway, and Mr Crawley’s first claim before a District Judge was turned down.

In March 2016 the ruling was overturned by Judge Graham Robinson, who found the council to blame. He said it was unreasonable that a pothole complaint made on a Friday would suffer a delay of at least two working days before being dealt with. Call centre staff should have been trained to evaluate the seriousness of potholes and instructed to contact the emergency standby team if necessary.

The council appealed that decision, saying that it had ‘a perfectly satisfactory system in place’ for dealing with potholes, and arguing that Judge Robinson had placed ‘too high a duty’ on the council and created a dangerous precedent for the future.

On 2 February 2017 at the Court of Appeal, judges ruled that the council breached its duty as highway authority.

However, Lord Justice Briggs said the council’s resources were ‘legally irrelevant’ to its duty to ensure the safety of road users. Regardless of weekends or bank holidays, the council was obliged to make ‘out of hours arrangements’ for potholes to be evaluated and dealt with within 24 hours.

Lord Justice Irwin agreed, saying: ‘Lack of resources cannot justify a failure to provide a reasonable system. It may be perfectly reasonable to have a reduced staff and activity over a weekend. But there must be some means of responding quickly to complaints from the public of serious and dangerous defects in the road.’

Lord Justice Jackson disagreed, but the council’s appeal was dismissed by a majority.

The amount of Mr Crawley's compensation payment has yet to be finally assessed.

LNB News and Lexis Nexis

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