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Appeal Courts Rules Council Liable in Claim for Pothole Accident Injuries

May 4, 2013

The Appeal Court in London has ruled that Devon County Council should accept 50 percent liability in a claim for pothole accident injuries due to their failure to inspect the condition of a rural road.

The accident which initiated the hearing occurred in November 2006, when the driver of a Land Rover – identified only as “TR” – hit an 8cm deep pothole on the C-25 between Honiton and Smeatharpe while overtaking a slower-moving vehicle. As the driver of the Land Rover tried to regain control of his car, the Land Rover swerved across the road and crashed into a line of trees – seriously injuring two of the vehicle´s passengers.

The passenger´s claims for injuries from a pothole accident were settled soon after, but the driver of the Land Rover claimed that he should not have to accept full responsibility for the accident, and took Devon County Council to court in April 2012.

At the High Court, Mrs Justice Slade heard that Devon County Council had implemented a six-monthly inspection schedule of a road that was used by heavy goods lorries and farm vehicles without conducting a risk assessment, and she ruled that the council was in breach of its duty of care to adequately inspect and maintain the road contrary to the Code of Practice for Highway Maintenance Management (2005).

The council appealed the decision – which left them liable to settle the £4.25 million claim for pothole accident injuries – and, at the Appeal Court in London, Lord Justice Hughes ruled that, although Mrs Justice Slade´s original verdict was correct, the driver of the Land Rover – “TR” – should share half the responsibility for the tragedy and his insurance company be 50 percent liable for settling the claims for injuries from a pothole accident.

Lord Hughes´ reasoning was that the 8cm pothole in the road was “there to be seen” and he said that “TR”´s error in not seeing and avoiding the pothole contributed to the accident. “Although the error may have been one which many might make”, he said “it amounted to a significant failure to keep a proper lookout and to manage the car correctly; it had terrible consequences. In my view, the only proper finding was that there was contributory negligence to the extent of 50 percent”.