January 20, 2012

Courts less supportive of minor accident claims against local authorities

We had a client who had sustained a broken arm after falling over a tree root. Whilst we were able initially to offer a CFA ‘No Win No Fee’ Arrangement to pursue the case, further enquiries disclosed that the local authority had monthly inspections in place, had identified that the area required repairs and had completed those repairs a month earlier than scheduled. This accordingly showed that the authority had “complied with its statutory duty to maintain the highway in a safe condition” and that the client was unlikely to succeed and we had to withdraw from the case.

The leading case goes back to Mills-v-Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (1992). Here the paving defect was 1.25 inches at worst and the claimant won in the first instance before a judge but lost at the Court of Appeal. There have been at least 18 further reported decisions since 1992 where this case was followed and claims were not successful.

Another Court of Appeal case was Esdale-v- Dover District Council (2010) where the pathway defect was between .75inches and 1inch – again, the claim was unsuccessful as the Court found that the council had taken reasonable steps.  Therefore, particularly in times of recession and cut backs the courts are far more likely to support the Defendant local authority in “Slipping and tripping” cases.

However, I am pleased to report that we were able to secure successful outcomes for our clients in the following more serious and complicated cases (minor details have been modified to protect client anonymity):

Pedestrian Student A student was knocked down and severely injured when crossing a road. The Police did not prosecute the driver and the defence falsely claimed that as the student was listening to an iPod, had not looked before crossing the road and he was entirely responsible for the accident that befell him. We managed to help him win an award of £9,750 – 75% of the original claim.

Burning Dress A guest at a wedding reception received very severe burns (and subsequent horrific scarring) across her body after her dress caught alight near a gas fire. Liability was denied by the venue (which was also found to be inadequately insured) and who suggested that it was the claimant’s fault. The final award was for £98,000.

Cycling accident In another case where the Police did not prosecute, the van that hit a cyclist causing him severe head injuries and personality changes argued that it was the cyclists fault for pulling out. The award was for £120,000

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