The claimant had been cycling home one evening when his front wheel suddenly collided with a huge pothole at the side of the carriageway on Nacton Road, Ipswich. This caused him to flip over his handlebars and suffer significant injuries to both hands, cuts and bruising to his face and concussion.
According to witnesses, the pothole had been the size of a ‘washing-up bowl’ and, within hours of the accident, the Council had filled in the pothole.
The Council denied any liability for the accident, raising a statutory defence on the basis that the pothole could not have been there 10 days earlier when their monthly inspection was performed. The inspector had recorded ‘nil’ defects on this road and, as such, the pothole could not have been in place for an unreasonable amount of time.
We found Google streetview images showing a pothole in the same location 6 months earlier. The Council’s records also showed that previous repairs in this precise location had been performed twice at 3 and 6 months prior to the accident. And, remarkably, the Council’s inspection records recorded ‘nil’ defects along the entire 2-mile stretch of Nacton Road over the 12 months prior to the accident. In addition, we discovered (after many enquiries) that the Highways Inspector had not received proper inspection training and had only started the job a month before the accident.
Despite all of this evidence, the Council maintained that its statutory defence would succeed and so court proceedings were commenced.
The Council refused to enter into any settlement discussions at any point during the litigation and so we prepared for trial.
The Council made an offer of settlement the day before trial and, following subsequent negotiations, a settlement was agreed on the afternoon before trial.
It seems to be quite clear that many local authorities (especially those who are self-insured or have a large excess) implement a policy of denying most (if not all) injury claims brought under the Highways Act 1980. We cannot recall the last time an early admission of liability was made by a local authority. If this policy results in a good proportion of meritorious claims being dropped, then it is an effective one!
Nevertheless, where the evidence supports it, we will always be prepared to fight our clients’ cases to Court despite the conduct of the defendant councils.