Under The Highways Act 1980, local councils are responsible for maintaining pavements in a safe condition for pedestrians. However, budget constraints and the resulting lack of resources, means that councils are often unable to properly fulfil their maintenance duties.
To prove liability for an accident, it will be necessary to show that the local council failed to adequately maintain a pavement. The local highway authority will normally inspect a street and its pavements for maintenance issues at least every six months (depending on how busy the route is), and is expected to keep inspection records to prove this.
When a pedestrian trips over on a pavement and is injured, their solicitor will request and examine the inspection records to show when the pavement was last checked and whether any hazards were identified. If the pavement had not been inspected for an unreasonably long period of time, or if a potential danger was recorded but no steps to repair it were taken, then a claim is more likely to succeed.
For a claim to succeed, it will be necessary to show that a defect such as a pothole had a depth of at least one inch (2.54cm), or that the raised edge of a broken paving stone, for example, protruded to or above that height. Courts take the realistic view that pavements cannot be expected to always be perfectly level, and as a consequence there needs to be a significant defect of this kind for a claim against a local council to succeed.
A council may act quickly to repair a defect once an accident has been reported, therefore, photos should be taken from different angles as soon as possible to make sure that the evidence is not lost. To illustrate the depth or height of a pavement defect, a ruler, small coin or match box can be positioned alongside it in the photos. The physical location of the accident can also be verified by taking a photo of the surrounding buildings or street name in relation to the damaged pavement.
Where a section of pavement is owned by a private freeholder, this will often be a landlord who will hold public liability insurance to cover them in the event of an accident taking place on their property. However, in most cases of this type, the landlord will have commercial tenants renting their property, and the burden of maintenance of a pavement will fall on the occupier rather than the owner.
Businesses and retailers need to examine the terms of their lease agreements closely to identify the precise extent of the land they are responsible for, and must also hold public liability insurance to protect themselves in the event of a claim being made against them.
On public highways, including roads, pavements and grass verges, local councils will generally be responsible for maintenance flaws. However, a shop will be liable for an accident involving a pedestrian if they have created an obstruction on a public highway, such as leaving out an advertising board or displaying goods in the street. To further complicate matters, certain roads and pavements are legally designated as 'private streets' rather than public highways, meaning that they are not under council control, and that their upkeep is the responsibility of the homes and shops located on them.
Apart from potholes and cracked paving slabs, damaged drain or manhole covers can also cause accidents, as can recent building work, such as when a utility company raises a pavement to access water mains or electric cables and in the process creates a tripping hazard. In this instance, the utility company rather than the local council can be held responsible.
Tripping accidents in the street are regularly caused by pavements and footpaths being in an uneven and unsafe condition. Pedestrians may easily catch their foot on the edge of a raised paving stone and trip and fall, particularly when they are walking fast and not looking at the ground. Otherwise they may step into a pothole or trip over a tree root bulging up through the street surface.
Cracks and raised paving stone edges on pavements and footpaths can be the result of the roots of trees (often planted by the local council) growing up through the surface’s tarmac and pushing paving stones upwards. This is a difficult problem to deal with, as unless the street surface is dug up and the trees removed, they will continue to grow and cause structural damage.
The other major cause of uneven and unsafe street surfaces is heavy vehicles, especially SUVs and delivery vans, mounting, driving and parking on them. Drivers frequently park with two wheels up on the pavement while paying a visit to the shops, as do delivery vehicles when dropping off orders. Utility companies are also constantly digging up pavements causing instability, and may fail to relay them properly, while their vehicles also routinely park on them.
When tripping hazards on pavements and footpaths are combined with poor street lighting, the risk of tripping accidents is significantly increased. Complaints to local councils may be ignored for months or years on end due to a lack of funding, despite accidents sometimes costing councils far more in personal injury claim payouts than the cost of fixing the problem.
A recent client of Bartletts Solicitors was a delivery driver who was injured while dropping off a parcel at a customer’s house. Mr S had parked his delivery van on the street outside the house, and after lifting the package out of the back of the vehicle, he turned and stumbled on the uneven pavement surface causing him to fall to the ground and wrenching his knee in the process. Mr S could not walk properly following the accident and his knee was painful and began to swell up quickly.
A passerby came to his assistance and called an ambulance to take Mr S to hospital for treatment, where he underwent an MRI scan that showed he had partially torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. He had a brace attached to his knee joint and was advised to undergo a course of rehabilitation. Due to instability in his knee, Mr S was unable to work for the next four weeks, and lost a substantial sum in earnings as a result, particularly as the accident took place at a peak time of year in his work.
Mr S contacted Bartletts Solicitors via our website, and after a telephone consultation with our solicitors, he was advised that he had strong grounds for making a claim against the local council in the area where he had been making the delivery. Representing Mr S, we submitted photographs of the depression/pothole in the pavement, which clearly showed that it was more than an inch deep, and requested inspection and maintenance records for the street in question. These revealed that the local council had received more than one complaint about the condition of the pavement, with the first dating back to more than a year prior to Mr S’s accident.
Local authorities are responsible for the upkeep and safety of pavements, and are expected to deal with maintenance issues within a reasonable time frame, which in this instance they had failed to do. The claim was settled by mutual agreement without the need for a court hearing, and Mr S received compensation totalling £4,800.
A recent client tripped on a broken paving slab that had recently been lifted by a telecoms provider so it could access cables beneath the pavement, but had not been replaced properly by the maintenance workers. Mr E banged his shoulder and arm on the ground in the fall, as well as grazing the side of his head. A passerby came to his assistance and called an ambulance.
Mr E received medical attention at A&E and was discharged the same day with his arm and shoulder in a sling due to soft tissue damage. He was off work for the next three weeks because of his injuries, and continued to be troubled by pain and discomfort for over two months. Having complained to his local council but received no response, Mr E got in touch with Bartletts Solicitors to discuss his legal options, and we subsequently agreed to take on his claim on a no win no fee basis.
During our correspondence with the telecom company’s insurers, we provided photographs showing that the edge of the paving stone was raised roughly an inch and a half above ground level, more than the minimum height at which the law recognises a pavement tripping hazard. This evidence was sufficient to prove that there was a foreseeable risk of an accident occurring. We also enclosed statements from two witnesses to Mr E’s accident, as well as a medical report on his injuries.
Records kept by the telecoms company subsequently failed to prove that a proper safety inspection had been carried out after the paving slabs were replaced by their workers. Despite the insistence of the company’s insurers that Mr E was partly responsible for the accident, we were able to win an admission of partial liability, and our client later received a cheque for £2,750 in compensation.
A recent client was walking down a public alley with her family one evening, when she inadvertently stepped into a pothole in the pavement and fell over, breaking a bone in her ankle. An ambulance was called and Mrs T was taken to hospital, where a plaster cast was applied to the fractured joint and she was later discharged on crutches. She was in plaster for eight weeks following the accident, and did not regain full mobility in her ankle for some time after.
Mrs T’s daughter had been able to take a series of photographs clearly showing the hazard that the pothole represented, and these later proved useful in support of her claim. The accident was reported to the local council, but the latter body denied any form of responsibility. Based on their response, Mrs T contacted our firm for legal advice and subsequently decided to go ahead with a personal injury claim against the council.
Following the commencement of legal proceedings, the local council initially decided to contest the claim under Section 58 of the Highways Act. However, after we requested the relevant documents, the council was forced to acknowledge the fact that two local residents had complained about the pothole within the past 12 months.
This later proved crucial in agreeing a compensation settlement, as it proved that the council had been aware of the hazard prior to the accident, but had failed to organise repair work which would have been the reasonable course of action in the circumstances. This represented a breach of the duty of care that the local council owed pedestrians using the pavement, meaning the body was liable for Mrs T’s injury. Following an admission of liability we were able to settle the case, with our client receiving £4,000 in compensation.
Mr S was walking down a street near his home when he tripped over the lid of an exposed manhole cover, sustaining severely torn ligaments in his ankle. A company had been laying technology cables in the street that day, and had lifted the manhole cover but failed to replace it properly.
When Mr S tripped over the cover it partly subsided, meaning that he fell at an awkward angle, wrenching his lower leg and partially tearing his ankle ligaments. Mr S was taken to hospital, where his injury was attended to and was later discharged on crutches. He was forced to take four weeks off work following the accident, and was still undergoing weekly physiotherapy sessions to regain strength and mobility in his ankle joint three months later.
During his time off work, Mr S contacted our firm for legal advice. After reviewing the facts, we advised him that he had strong grounds for making a no win no fee claim against the company that had laid the cables in the street.
We wrote to the company concerned, arguing that they had failed to replace the manhole cover securely after they had removed it, and this meant that it was in a hazardous state when Mr S walked over it. They were also provided with photographs of the manhole cover taken immediately after he tripped and fell over it, which clearly showed that it was in a defective and dangerous condition. After a few months of correspondence, we were able to win an admission of liability from the company’s insurers, and Mr S later received a cheque for £3,500 in compensation.
Mrs J was leaving her local supermarket with her husband one evening, when she tripped and fell over a raised drain cover. Mrs J fell awkwardly, damaging her shoulder and severely sprained her wrist in the accident. She also sustained abrasions to the side of her face and head. Before driving his wife to hospital, Mr J took clear photographs of the raised lip on the drain cover using his mobile phone.
These photos later proved critical in establishing that the lip on the cover was indeed raised dangerously high when his wife tripped over it. Mrs J was kept in hospital overnight as a precaution against concussion, and took two weeks off work on doctor's advice. She continued to suffer from periodic aches and weakness in her wrist many months later.
Mr J contacted Bartletts Solicitors for legal advice while his wife was recuperating, and we subsequently agreed to represent her in a no win no fee claim against the supermarket. We argued that the principal cause of the accident was a failure of maintenance. It turned out that all the drain covers had been replaced a few days prior to the incident, yet maintenance workers had left the particular cover that Mrs J tripped over in a defective state with the lip raised roughly two inches above ground level.
In legal terms, this was high enough to constitute an obvious hazard and make it reasonably foreseeable that someone would trip over the drain cover and injure themselves. We were able to win an admission of liability from the supermarket's insurers, and upon conclusion of the claims process our client received £3,750 in compensation.