March 10, 2014

What Can We Do About Potholes?

Martyn Uzzell died from severe head injuries when he was thrown into the path of the car behind him when his bike hit a four-inch deep pothole on the A65 at Giggleswick, North Yorkshire. The inquest into his death heard that the tragedy was avoidable as workers from North Yorkshire County Council had inspected the pothole a month before the accident and decided that immediate repairs weren’t necessary.

This pothole is one of possibly millions that have appeared on UK roads in recent years due to several icy winters in a row together with this year’s floods. It is estimated that if all local authorities were given the budgets they need to fix their road, it would still take English authorities 12 years to catch up with the current backlog – some potholes are filled within a day or two but many take up to a month to deal with.

Unfortunately, there is no universal standard for road care, with each authority setting different schedules on how often their roads are inspected. And there is no standard for what constitutes a dangerous pothole – the criteria vary from council to council.

So, if you suffer damage, it won’t be immediately clear if the council will pay out. If they’ve abided by their own regulations, then they may well not be liable. And even if they are liable, they won’t always admit it. The average repair cost is in the region of £250; the expense of getting a lawyer or losing a no-claims bonus from claiming on insurance is hardly worthwhile for a cost this low. So, a lot of pothole damage goes unreported.

Despite this, the advice is to gather evidence and report the pothole and damage to the council; it is also worth submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the relevant council and download the national code of good practice for highway maintenance. These pieces of information can then be used to evaluate the local authority’s defence against your claim. It may take a long time but usually the result is a successful response. And if the local authority still refuses the claim, it may be worth taking some legal advice.

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