If a person suffers an injury following an accident on a public road because the road was not safe, the victim may be eligible to make a personal injury claim through the Highways Act 1980. This is an Act that sets out the responsibilities and obligations of road owners, usually local authorities and councils, with regards to maintaining the safety and usability of highways. If a public road is not maintained adequately and this leads to an accident, the highway agent can be held accountable and liable for any injuries and losses sustained.
The following article explains how a personal injury claim can be made through the Highways Act 1980, what is included in the act, what is considered as inadequate road maintenance and how decisions are made regarding liability and settlements.
What is covered in the Highways Act 1980?
The Highways Act 1980 sets out the responsibility of highway agents to improve, maintain and provide roads throughout England and Wales. The act is thorough and lengthy, though the main provisions relating to personal injury claims are laid out in Sections 36 to 61 of Part 4 of the Act. This area includes the requirement of agents to repair and maintain highways as per their agreed remit.
This area of the Act sets out that:
“This duty to maintain means that the highway agent must keep the road in such good repair, that it is reasonably passable for the ordinary traffic of the area”.
The Act goes on to detail that agents must maintain records of all work carried out on roads and such records will be used to determine the level of diligence, care and planning given to adequately upkeeping the safety of the highways in the event of a claim.
What is considered as being inadequate road maintenance?
The legislation explains that a poorly maintained road is one that is not adequately safe and cannot be considered as passable. This refers to failures and breaches of the highway agent with regards to recognising, repairing and removing any defects, safety impairments and obstructions that would make a road dangerous.
There are a number of defects that can be considered as unsafe, and that can readily lead to an accident if they are not dealt with promptly and properly. This includes:
- Obstacles such as debris on the road surface
- Inadequate road signs or signs that are damaged, worn or obscured
- Potholes in the road
- Inadequate safety measures for specific events such as salting the road due to ice.
The claimant and their solicitor would need to demonstrate that the area in which the accident occurred was not adequately safe and that the incident had been caused due to an oversight or breach in the highway authorities duty of care to properly maintain the highway. Not all road defects will make a highway authority liable for a personal injury claim, and so the claimant must be able to prove that the fault was with the defendant.
How can the Highways Act 1980 help to determine liability?
To help prove liability for an accident, the Act details that reasonable foreseeable risks and dangers must be considered by highway agents in their road maintenance planning. This means that the council can be reasonably expected to recognise that obstacles on a road could lead to an accident or that a pothole that is not repaired could cause injury to pedestrians, cyclists and other road users.
A court which needs to determine the responsibility for injuries and damage suffered would refer to Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980. This requires the court to consider the following points:
- If the claimant contributed to the accident
- How the road is used by other drivers and pedestrians
- Whether the level of maintenance given to the road was sufficient and appropriate
- Whether the state of repair of the road is reasonable for what can be expected of the highway by road users.
- Whether it is fair to presume that the highway agent could have been expected to know about any dangerous conditions of the road.
- Whether adequate signage was in place for any repairs, obstructions or risks that could not be immediately rectified.
The Highways Act 1980 serves to offer guidance on personal injury claims processes and provides the legal grounds and considerations for both parties with regards to pursuing a legal case.
If you suffered an injury in the last three years due to a poorly maintained road or walkway, you might be entitled to make a personal injury claim through the Highways Act 1980. According to the Act, the authority responsible for your accident could be either:
- National Highways is responsible for trunk roads such as motorways and A roads
- The appropriate county or metropolitan council is responsible for all other secondary roads
- Transport for London (TfL) or a borough council, if your accident took place in London
Your solicitor will investigate your claim to establish that your accident was due to a poorly maintained road or pavement. However, a road or pavement defect would not automatically make the highway authority liable for your injuries. To have a valid claim, you must be able to prove that:
- The highway authority owed you a duty of care
- They failed to take all reasonable measures to keep the road safe
- Their negligence caused you a foreseeable accident
- You suffered an injury or injuries as a result
To assess liability, the courts and solicitors refer to Section 58 of the Highways Act. If it can be shown that the authority responsible for the road has acted reasonably and fulfilled its duties to inspect and repair, your claim will most likely be turned down. For example, if the council can prove that a road defect appeared after their last inspection and nobody reported it as a hazard, your claim will likely fail.
On the other hand, you can still claim even if you were partially to blame for your injuries. If the highway authorities can prove contributory negligence, you may receive reduced compensation to reflect your part of the blame. This may be the case if, for instance, you failed to spot an obvious road defect that the highway authority had failed to repair within a reasonable timeframe.
For a free consultation with a legal adviser, call 0800 678 1410 or request a call back. They can let you know if you may be able to claim against the highway authority and can answer any questions you may have.
What evidence will I need to make a claim?
If you want to begin a claim under the Highways Act 1980, the first thing you should do is contact a personal injury lawyer. If your case has merit, they will offer you a no win no fee agreement and help you collate all the evidence you need to build a strong compensation claim.
Things that you should try to prepare to support your case include:
- Medical records to show the extent of your injuries, the treatments you received and any long-term effects they might have caused.
- Accident reports that you should file with the local council or the highway authority in charge of the road. You are entitled to ask for a copy of the report to help establish the date, time and location of your accident.
- Provide copies of any emails or correspondence between you and the road authority.
- Photographs of the accident scene, trying to capture the precise road defect responsible for the incident. If your injuries were due to a pothole, include a ruler, tape measure, coin or another item in the photo to help show its size.
- Take pictures of any visible injuries and damage to your property.
- Get the names and contact details of any witnesses who saw what happened and could give an official statement later in the claims process.
- Your statement about how the accident happened, the injuries you suffered and how this affected your life.
- CCTV or dash cam footage of the accident if there were any cameras in the area.
- Proof of all the financial losses and expenses you incurred due to the accident, such as lost wages, medication and care and assistance costs.
If the defendant admits liability for your injuries, you may only need to provide an official medical report and proof of financial losses and expenses. If they deny liability, you may need to argue your claim before a judge and will need as much evidence as possible to support your case. However, claims of this nature very rarely end up in court, with over 95% of claims settled beforehand.
How long will it take to receive my injury compensation?
If you are eligible to receive compensation from the highway authority, the steps and duration of your claim will depend on several factors, including:
How soon you are seeking legal advice
It goes without saying that the earlier you speak to a solicitor, the sooner they can begin to investigate your claim, contact the other side and negotiate a settlement on your behalf.
The time needed to gather evidence
As a general rule, the sooner you speak to a legal adviser, the easier it is to collect evidence and work out who was responsible for your accident. If you do not seek legal advice right away and have no photos of the accident scene, the road defect might be repaired, and it will be much harder to prove liability.
The type and severity of your injuries
If your accident caused you a relatively minor injury, such as a simple arm fracture or ankle sprain, your claim would be pretty straightforward. On the other hand, it could take years to fully assess a severe head injury that may have a long-lasting or permanent debilitating effect.
When you send a letter of claim to the other party
After you have gathered all the details about your accident, you (or your solicitor) must send a letter of claim to the defendant, informing them of your allegations of negligence. The sooner you contact the other side, the sooner they can begin investigating your claim and send you a letter of response.
Whether the highway authority admits liability
If the defendant admits liability for your accident, you can begin to negotiate a settlement straight away. If they deny responsibility, you may have to issue court proceedings and prepare all the available evidence to argue your claim in court.
If your case goes to trial, it will take significantly longer to receive your compensation, as you may have to wait up to a year just to get a court date.
Whether you can agree on a compensation award
If the other party agrees to pay you the settlement you find fair for your damages, you should receive the compensation award within four weeks. Otherwise, your solicitor will continue to negotiate until you reach a settlement that is fair to both parties.
If you cannot settle out of court, a judge will decide how much compensation you should receive and order the defendant to make the payment, usually within 21 days.
The councils and national highways usually strive to acknowledge your claim within 21 days and give you a response on whether or not they admit liability within three months.
If your case is straightforward, you could receive the compensation award within several months after seeking legal advice. More complex or high-value claims may take years to conclude.