Legal Q&A: What are my rights if a pothole makes me crash?
Potholes are a common cause of cycling crashes, but what are your legal rights if you hit one? Alan Stanton, Flickr.com
Potholed roads are a common cause of complaint for cyclists but what if the worst happens and a pothole actually causes you to crash, injuring yourself or damaging your bike? Mark Hambleton from Withy King solicitors in Bath explains your rights under UK law.
Many cyclists are injured or suffer damage to their bike as a result of potholes on roads maintained at the public expense – ie. by the Highway Authority, which is usually the local council. Highway Authorities have a statutory duty to maintain and repair the highway so that it's reasonably safe for day to day traffic.
A cyclist may have a successful claim for damages if he/she has been injured and/or suffered property damage as a result of an accident caused by a pothole that created a reasonably foreseeable danger to road users. The Highway Authority can defend the cyclist’s claim if it can prove it had taken reasonable care to make sure the road wasn't dangerous – for example, by adopting and implementing a suitable system of maintenance and inspection.
It's accepted that the Highway Authority’s system of maintenance and inspection for country roads doesn't need to be as thorough as it does for busy urban roads. A cyclist’s case against the Highway Authority is more likely to be successful if the accident was caused by a large pothole on a main road for a long period (ie. six months or more). Photographic evidence is often helpful.
Cyclists should consider reporting potholes to the appropriate Highway Authority as soon as they first spot them (you can do this via the CTC's Fill That Hole site ed). Once the Highway Authority is notified of the pothole it has a duty to repair it within a reasonable period. The pothole may still not be repaired if the Highway Authority deems that it isn't large enough to reach its “intervention level”.
If a cyclist is injured as a result of an accident caused by a pothole and can prove that the Highway Authority has breached its duty then he/she will be entitled to recover damages for their injuries in addition to damages for their financial losses – eg. damaged bike, equipment and clothing. A solicitor specialising in this type of work should be contacted.
They will probably undertake the work on a “no win, no fee” basis as long as the damages for the cyclist’s injuries are likely to exceed £1,000. If a cyclist suffers financial losses (damaged bike, equipment and clothing) but isn't injured (or suffers minor injuries where damages for the injuries alone are unlikely to exceed £1,000) then he/she will probably find it doesn't make financial sense to instruct a solicitor to pursue such a claim.
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To pursue matters themselves cyclists should:
1 Notify the Highway Authority of the pothole (with photos)
2 Send the Highway Authority details of the event that caused the financial losses and evidence of the financial losses incurred (eg. a quote for repairs)
3 Request the Highway Authority’s risk assessments and inspection/maintenance records
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