The owner of a Ferrari Spider car has successfully sued Peterborough City Council in the small claims court after hitting a pothole that resulted in damage to the vehicle’s wheel, suspension and interior following deployment of an airbag. An award just shy of £10,000 has been made. It has been reported the average repair cost of a pothole is a mere £53!

The owner, Mr Nicholas, has indicated that he took the stance out of principle and that he will donate monies to charity. Peterborough City Council have accepted the ruling, with reports indicating it was the most the Council have paid out for a single pothole claim.

Our litigation solicitor, Michael Young, who represented Mr Nicholas stated:

 “This was a unique case in that Mr Nicholas was prepared to pursue matters as a point of principle first and foremost. His aim was to achieve a level of accountability from the Defendant for the state of the road under their care and to highlight the responsibility they have to road users.”

Peterborough City Council sought to rely on a statutory defence detailed in Section 58 Highways Act 1980. This section gives a complete defence to authorities where they have taken reasonable steps in ensuring the highway is not dangerous to traffic.

The Court found that a maintenance plan by an authority was not sufficient to satisfy the statutory defence requirement. Rather that it was more important to consider what had been done in terms of care to reasonably secure the road. For example an annual inspection may not be sufficient for all roads, further it might be inappropriate to simply have a drive-by inspection and then there could also be an issue as to whether those designated inspections were adequate too.

In Mr Nicholas’ case the Court felt the area of road where the crash occurred should have been categorised differently and inspected more regularly. The Court also expressed surprise at the time taken to repair the pothole following the incident.

Michael Young stated: 

“I do hope that this case will discourage authorities from using the Section 58 Defence as a default position. It is important that authorities utilise road maintenance plans in a relevant way that is suitable for the road in question and ultimately improving road safety for all users.”

 Whilst some may argue as to resource levels and public monies being better directed elsewhere, a balance can surely be struck. Whilst the Section 58 Defence quite properly allows authorities a way out of liability where reasonable road maintenance has occurred, as “accidents happen”, this case highlights that this defence cannot be interpreted as a complete get-out clause.

Michael Young is an Associate Solicitor at Shakespeare Martineau LLP. For further information please contact on 0121 237 3000 or email him at Michael.young@SHMA.co.uk.