Accidents Caused By Potholes

Roads in England have been described as suffering a pothole epidemic caused by years of under-investment in the roads by successive governments.

The Asphalt Industry Alliance carries out an annual survey of the councils in England, who are the local highway authorities responsible for maintaining roads, and each year the highway authorities report large shortfalls in their budgets for money available to spend repairing and maintaining roads.

Potholes develop in road surfaces that are in a worn condition with cracks in the tarmac. Rain water gets into the cracks and during freezing weather  the water expands and makes the cracks larger. The vehicle traffic using the road then causes the cracked tarmac to deteriorate and break, resulting in holes developing in the worn tarmac.

The local councils are under a legal duty to maintain roads in a reasonably safe condition and every year each local council on average fill 20,700 potholes, at a cost of about £52 for each pothole.

Potholes are a safety problem, causing accidents to pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers. A compensation claim may be made to the local council if it can be shown that the pothole that caused the accident was a result of the council’s failure to carry out its duties as the local highway authority. Each year the councils pay out tens of millions of pounds in compensation to injured people and also for the cost of repairs to cars damaged by potholes.

If you suffer an accident caused by a pothole it is important to take photographs of the pothole because the photographs will be a record of the condition of the road. Local councils and their insurance companies frequently dispute that the bad road condition that caused the accident was due to a failure by the council to carry out its legal duty to maintain the road. Therefore people generally find it necessary to use a solicitor experienced in accident compensation claims to work on their behalf in making the compensation claim to the council.

Over the years there have been many court decisions where the courts have ordered councils to pay compensation to the victims of accidents caused by potholes and road surfaces being in a hazardous condition, such as Wilkinson v The City of York Council, a case concerning a cyclist who was awarded compensation after falling from cycle due to a pothole in the road.

Asphalt Industry Alliance’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey: www.asphaltuk.org

Legal duties of highway authorities are contained in The Highways Act 1980.