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Liability of Highway Authority for Defects...

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Devon County Council was found by the High Court to be in breach of its statutory duties as highway authority and was responsible for a road traffic accident resulting in severe injuries.

TR was the driver of a Land Rover and was overtaking another vehicle. During this manoeuvre, his offside tyres went into a potholed area at the side of the metalled surface and he lost control. The Land Rover swerved across the road and collided with trees on the nearside verge resulting in catastrophic injuries to the Claimants. Proceedings were brought against TR who in turn brought a claim against Devon CC alleging breach of its duties under the Highways Act 1980. The highway authority denied liability and further sought to rely on the statutory defence, under s 58, that they ” had taken such care as in all the circumstances was reasonably required to secure that the part of the highway to which the action relates was not dangerous for traffic”.

It was found that the highway was dangerous as a result of failure by the highway authority to maintain or repair and that the injuries were caused by the failure to maintain or repair.

The Code of Practice for Highway Maintenance Management 2005 recommends inspection of the relevant class of road every month. Devon CC inspected every six months. There was no evidence of a risk-based decision to depart from the Code. The Council failed to show that they had acted reasonably and could not rely on the statutory defence. Consequently Devon CC was held to be in breach of its duties under the Highways Act. TR was was successful in his claim and was not contributorily negligent.

AC and DC v TR and Devon County Council. Christopher Sharp QC and Matthew White of St John’s Chambers Bristol represented the driver of the Land Rover, TR. Their summary of the case may be found here.