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Navigating Pothole Claims

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The latest cold snap is a reminder of just how harsh our recent winters have been and how much havoc they cause road users. The pothole menace that ice and snow leaves behind on roads and pavements can cause considerable harm to pedestrians, vehicles and their occupants.

Potholes are a consequence of both heavy road use and weather but the Highways Agency is under a statutory duty to maintain roads in England to ensure that they are safe to use. Private roads should also be maintained by their owners to ensure that they are safe and fit for purpose. Potholes can present a variety of hazards such as tripping up pedestrians or damaging vehicles that drive over them. Motorcycles, scooters and bicycles are particularly vulnerable when it comes to road defects.

In an indication of just how much damage badly maintained roads can cause, new figures show that potholes in Scotland have cost local authorities more than £1.7m in years between winter 2006/07 and 2010/11. The money was paid out in compensation to drivers whose vehicles were damaged by roads in poor condition.

While potholes are a fact of life for motorists, councils and the Highways Agency do have a duty to keep roads as safe as is reasonably possible. Normally they have policies in place to deal with the inspection and maintenance of roads and, if they can show that they have taken reasonable steps to keep the road in question safe and fit for purpose in line with those policies, they may be able to defend themselves from a claim. This defence is provided by legislation designed to protect them from the unrealistic assumption that all maintenance issues, including potholes, will be dealt with immediately. It does not leave them free to neglect road maintenance though.

The high levels of compensation that have been paid out in Scotland show that councils have been falling short of their duty to keep roads safe and fit for purpose in line with their own policies and reasonable expectations. Clearly it is not only newly formed potholes that are catching out unwary pedestrians and motorists on public roads.

Anyone who has suffered a personal injury or damage to their vehicle from potholes, whether on private or public roads, should ensure that they receive proper legal advice. We have lawyers who are experienced in dealing with these types of cases, for more information or advice, please contact Sarah Vincent by email ( or by telephone 020 7611 4848.