In many ways the personal injury claims are a means of holding various sectors and people from everyday life to account. While personal injury claims relating to potholes have been around for some time, it’s important that you know where you stand, the legality of the situation and ultimately whether you have a claim for personal injury compensation.
The growing threat of potholes
Whether a motorist, passenger or pedestrian, there is no way that you will have missed the growing number of potholes in the UK. This has been a constant headache for the highways department, local authorities and private road owners for some time. In what is fast becoming a nightmare scenario, challenges over the last 12 months (COVID etc.) have seen the number of potholes in the UK grow significantly.
What causes potholes?
While many people believe that potholes are caused by substandard materials, this is not generally the case. It is the change in weather conditions which has a material impact on tarmac and road surfaces. You will notice that potholes tend to become more prominent in the wintertime. This is because water seeps into relatively small cracks in the road surface. This can lie under the tarmac for some time until the frosty weather emerges. The extremely low temperatures create ice, which expands the water, higher temperatures melt the ice and the process repeats itself.
The constant freezing and melting creates movement in the tarmac, weakening the surface and causing pieces of tarmac to crumble. As you drive over these crumbling areas, this causes further damage and ultimately a pothole would begin to emerge. This process will continue until the area is repaired, causing a significant risk to road users and pedestrians.
Common injuries caused by potholes
Unfortunately, while many of us accept potholes as part of everyday life as a motorist and pedestrian, they can cause serious accidents. This includes:-
- Swerving to avoid a pothole, placing other motorists, passengers and pedestrians at potential risk
- Driving over a pothole can cause serious damage to your vehicle, impacting the drivability and safety
- Drivers and passengers have been known to be injured as a consequence of driving over a pothole
The range of potential injuries caused by potholes is fairly long and includes the likes of:-
- Cuts and bruises
- Neck injuries
- Broken bones
Injuries and damage to your vehicle, or surrounding vehicles, people and buildings if you’re forced to swerve, can be significant.
The emerging threat on pathways
Over the last few years, many people have begun to notice that local authorities up and down the country are replacing cracked/broken paving stones with tarmac. As a consequence, while potholes have predominantly occurred on roads, they are now starting to emerge on public pathways. This can create a serious threat of injury if you trip or slip on a pothole. There is also the serious problem faced by many people using prams on public pathways. The emergence of a relatively small pothole could on occasion cause your pram to tip over with potentially disastrous consequences.
Who is liable for damage/injuries caused by potholes?
When it comes to the upkeep of highways and byways, this tends to be split between Highways England and local authorities. Such is the threat from potholes that these bodies have specific teams taking phone calls and emails from those reporting potholes. This then prompts the question, when do these authorities become liable to damage caused by potholes?
There are a number of issues to take into consideration: –
- All roads are “inspected” regularly at various intervals
- Once reported, an authority has the obligation to investigate a pothole
- Failure to fix a pothole will leave the authority liable
When you report a pothole, the authority will carry out an inspection as soon as possible. This will consider the:-
- Size and depth of the pothole
- Volume of traffic
- Locations of the road
- Visibility of the pothole
- Position of the pothole on the road
It is difficult to pin local authorities down to a timescale, but from a legal standpoint they cannot always act immediately when they receive reports of a pothole. However, if you can prove that the authority failed to take action, were too slow in taking action or simply ignored reports of potholes, they will likely be held liable for any injuries and damage to vehicles. If it turns out that the authorities failed to inspect a damaged road on a regular basis, this may provide additional evidence to those seeking compensation.
Claiming compensation for pothole damage
In years gone by local authorities automatically paid out compensation for alleged pothole damages/injuries in order to save on court fees. This has changed in recent years, assisted by various adjustments to compensation legislation, and you will need to provide clear evidence. This might include:-
- Photographs of the pothole/surrounding area
- Photographs of the damage to your vehicle
- Photographs of injuries caused
- Witness statements
- Timetable prior to and post the incident
- Doctor’s report
- Garage report
Whether or not you pursue damages directly with the local authority, or via a personal injury claims company, will depend upon the severity of injuries and potential compensation. It may also be that the local authority refuses your initial claim, which you believe to be perfectly valid. If unsure if you could claim compensation against the council/local authority for a pothole accident, take professional advice with many solicitors offering no win, no fee arrangements.