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Councils under pressure to fix potholes immediately after CoA ruling

A majority decision in the Court of Appeal has found against Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council over a claim by a jogger that a pothole should have been fixed immediately it was discovered.

The jogger Lee Crawley brought the case - Crawley v. Barnsley MBC [2017] EWCA Civ 36 - after he hurt his ankle on a pothole and was unable to put weight on that leg for ten days. The judges held that the council’s policy to repair such defects in the highway the next working day was not sufficient.

All three judges held that lack of resources was no defence by the council. Two judges - Lords Justice  Briggs and Irwin - found that Barnsley’s policy of making no out-of-hours of potentially serious potholes was insufficient. The other - Lord Justice Jackson - dissented.

Matthew White of the personal injury team at St John’s Chambers suggested two ways for highways authorities to resolve these issues in the light of the decision. They could decide that such accidents are sufficiently rare that they do not need to act. Mr White said: “I would worry about that in relation to false claims (albeit that it would take a fraudster rather more sophisticated than the usual to take advantage of such lacuna in a highway authority’s process).”

The other route is to train staff to make assessments of the potential danger of a pothole when they receive phone calls reporting problems from the public. This route also raises practical problems, in that members of the public are inclined to report all potholes as being large. Mr White added: “Perhaps call handlers will need to be trained to assess the accuracy of the report and/or to test it with probing questions.”