Heavy Rainfall and Potholes: A Dangerous Duo

30th March 2022 Personal Injury

JMW secures double pay-out for cyclists injured by dangerous pothole hidden by a large puddle.

Background

In February 2018, the two Claimants were involved in a club cycle ride in Kent. As they were making their way back home, they cycled along Penny Pot Lane, Ashford.

The weather conditions were poor and the First Claimant (Mr Loozen) rode through what he thought to be just a puddle. Seconds later, the First Claimant was thrown from his bike. He had hit the edge of a large pothole. This caused the Second Claimant (Mr Paggett), who was riding behind the First Claimant and could not avoid the collision, to collide with the First Claimant and come off his bike too.

The First Claimant suffered a concussion, facial injuries, dental injuries, neck and chest injuries, psychological injuries as well as various cuts and bruises. Bike and kit damage was over £4500.

The Second Claimant sustained a fractured right wrist and general cuts and bruises.

The crash location was visited some days later when the rain water had receded. Photographs were taken, which show just how deep and dangerous this pothole was.  

Pothole march 22 blog.png

The Claimants contacted JMW, who submitted both claims to Kent County Council (the Council). The claims were handled by Nadia Kerr, head of JMW’s expert cycling claims team.

Arguments

Liability was disputed by the Council. The Council raised the following arguments: -

  • The Council had in place a reasonable system of highways inspection and repair.
  • The crash location was subject to bi-annual inspections.
  • It was not seen before the crash
  • The defect was repaired swiftly following the reports of the crash

The Council sent over their records which they claimed proved how they had complied with their own Highways Policy.

These records were scrutinised by the cycling claims team and they revealed the following points: -

  • 10 days before the crash, a complaint had been made by a member of the public regarding another pothole approximately 250 meters from the offending defect. This report referenced “multiple potholes” along this stretch of road.
  • 7 days before the crash, a further complaint was made which identified the offending defect specifically. The complaint referred to “a very large pothole in road…needs urgently filling in nearly across whole of road”.
  • 5 days before the crash, an inspection of this road was carried out by the council. Despite these two complaints, the offending pothole was not identified during this inspection.
  • 3 days before the crash, a further complaint was raised which referenced “more potholes along the road”.

It was clear that the Council had a number of opportunities to identify and repair this dangerous pothole in the lead up to the crash. The pothole should have been identified during the inspection and categorised for urgent, same-day repair in view of the sheer scale of it. This crash could have been avoided.  

Despite this, liability remained in dispute for over 3 years. Further documents were requested from the council and eventually obtained after various delays. One set of documents inadvertently revealed contact details for a witness (someone who had reported the potholes to the council) which meant that Nadia could make direct contact with the witness. This is not usually possible as the council block out names and contact details of those reporting potholes to the council. It means that if a member of the public reports a defect but withholds consent for their details to be passed on in the event of a claim, witness evidence may not be traceable and that can easily defeat a claim for compensation. We are all encouraged to report defects on our roads to help cash strapped councils target their limited resources to the areas most in need of repair but please also consider agreeing to your details being shared with those bringing claims. If there is a successful claim then the council are made even more aware of the need to fix the most dangerous potholes.

Court proceedings were issued in January 2021.

In December 2021, the parties attended a joint settlement meeting and both claims were settled in the respective sums of £30,000 (First Claimant) and £15,000 (Second Claimant). Both Claimants were represented by Nick Harrison at the settlement meeting.

Discussion

This case demonstrates how poor weather, especially heavy rainfall, represents a two-fold danger for vulnerable road users such as cyclists. Firstly, rain and standing water causes deterioration to road surfaces and an increase in potholes. Secondly, the presence of standing water has the effect of masking dangerous defects, making them appear as regular puddles to road users. This can mean that dangerous potholes are not seen on inspections and are not then scheduled for repair.

In recent months, we have seen an increasing failure by local authorities across the UK to adequately deal with water damaged roads. This includes failure to unblock drains and remove standing water from the highway, as well as failure to increase highways inspection frequencies on roads susceptible to water damage. In the wake of poor weather earlier this year and heavy rainfall caused by Storm Eunice and Franklin, this trend is problematic. Local authorities should ensure that safe and accessible cycling routes are available all year round.

To speak to a solicitor if you have been involved in a cycling accident, contact us today on 0345 241 5305, or fill in our online enquiry form to request a call back. For more information on cycling accidents visit our dedicated page

This blog was co-authored by Nadia Kerr and Ben Mather.​​

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Nadia Kerr is a Partner located in Manchester in our Bicycle Accidents & Personal Injury department

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