Can you claim compensation for accidents caused by potholes?

Lisa Walton Personal Injury Solicitor Stroud

When left unrepaired potholes in roads and pavements can be a hazard to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike. These potholes could mean a trip to the garage, or they could mean something a lot more serious. When you are cycling, hitting a pothole can cause serious injury. Equally if you trip on a pothole or defect in the pavement as a pedestrian you may be seriously injured also.

Research from Cycling UK suggests that 56% of people say they would cycle more if roads had fewer faults such as potholes.

“A BBC 5 Live questionnaire found half of almost 5,000 cyclists had suffered a pothole-related accident, with 1,516 injured as a result, 207 of those seriously. More than 10% of respondents said they missed work because of a pothole crash, and 31% were put off cycling. This survey was backed up by a mass freedom of information report from Cycling UK, which revealed cycling pothole crash compensation claims to councils in England and Wales are 10 times higher than motoring claims because of the higher risk of personal injury.” The Guardian

What is a pothole?

A pothole is a depression or hollow in a road surface caused by wear or subsidence.

The Gloucestershire Highways Safety Inspection Manual describes a pothole as “a sharp edged depression anywhere in a carriageway where part or all of the surface layers have been removed including carriageway collapses, surrounds to ironwork and missing cats eyes. A pothole will be classed as a safety defect when its maximum horizontal dimension is greater than 300mm and is greater than 40mm deep. A pothole in a footway is classed as a safety defect when it is greater than 20mm deep and its maximum horizontal dimension is greater than 100mm.”

Can you claim for all accidents caused by potholes?

Not all accidents caused by potholes are eligible to claim compensation. It will depend on a number of factors, listed below:

Lack of maintenance

Councils are required to inspect all publicly maintainable roads and pavements. The frequency of this inspection depends on the type of road or path. A major road with a high footfall is likely to require bi-annual or even quarterly inspections. A minor residential road or path is likely to only have annual inspections.

Each council will also have an ‘Intervention Level’. The Intervention Level is the council’s threshold of what qualifies as a defect that requires fixing. For example, it is common to see that a pothole on a pavement needs to be 2.5 cm in depth before it will be fixed. This will usually be deeper still on a road. The width of the pothole also plays a part in the Intervention Level. Each council usually have a policy rating the urgency of the repair. This will state whether action is required within 24 hours, within 28 days or whether the repairs can be delayed.

Accidents caused by potholes example
Example of a pothole in a footway
Credit: www.gloucestershire.gov.uk

In addition the council keep records of complaints made about potholes which get investigated and recorded.

In order to take on your case we would request disclosure of all inspection documents and complaint records, and review them carefully. If there are any discrepancies, no matter how small, we may be able to succeed with the claim. For example, if the inspections were irregular or if a defect was reported and reached the intervention level but no repair had been carried. Or if the defect was well in excess of the intervention level and not noted in the annual inspections. In this case we would need to prove that the defect existed and that it was severe enough to cause the injury prior to the last inspection date.

Defects that are less than 2.5cm can cause accidents and significant injuries, but it is highly unlikely that you would be able to make a successful accident claim.

You must have suffered an injury

To pursue an injury claim it might be obvious to state it, but you must have actually suffered an injury as a direct result of the incident. This will need to be supported by medical evidence. You should seek medical help after the incident as soon as possible. It is important that the person treating your injuries record your injuries and how you received them in your medical records. This can then be obtained as evidence to support your claim.

One of our personal injury solicitors can discuss with you the injuries that you have sustained before they decide to take on your case. We can take on claims on a ‘no win no fee’ basis where we think that your injury is sufficient enough. If your injury is minor or you recover very quickly, the claim is less likely to be taken on.

How to make a claim

1. Seek medical help

First, and most importantly, if you have an accident involving a pothole or raised pavement you should seek medical help.

2. Gather evidence

You should take photographs of the defect as soon as possible. Although you may not have a ruler or tape measure to hand, try to include everyday items such as a coin or mobile phone in the photos to provide an indication of the dimensions of the hole or damaged area. Ensure that the photos show the width, length and most importantly the depth. Ensure that photos also contain things that help to pinpoint the exact location of the accident, for example road signs, shops or lampposts. You should take several photos from different angles, to make sure the defect on the pavement is clearly visible.

3. Witnesses

Where possible try to get the names and contact details of anyone who saw the accident happen. Make a note of any CCTV footage that might be available as well.

4. Location 

Make note of the exact location of the incident, being as specific as possible.

5. Report it

Report your accident to the local authority, including your photos. Make a note of when this is done, keeping a copy of correspondence sent and any references given.

6. Claim within the time limit

There is a time limit for bringing a claim for compensation; your accident must have happened within the past three years to be eligible. Although three years may seem like a longtime, it is usually better to start your claim sooner rather than later. If the three year limitation period has passed, it is unlikely that you would be able to proceed with your claim. If you were under the age of 18 when the accident occurred, the three year period starts on the date you turned 18 years old.

7. Seek expert help

The Personal Injury team at WSP are experienced in handling compensation claims following an accident involving a pothole. If you are considering making a claim please get in touch to find out how we can help you.

What can you do to help prevent further accidents?

If you discover a pothole or defect the most important step in preventing further accidents is to promptly notify the council. In Gloucestershire the Safety Inspection Manual states that additional inspections may be necessary where there has been user concern, incidents or extreme weather.  

When reports of potholes are made, the council are obliged to visit the location and make an assessment. They will decide whether the defect is a hazard and requires urgent repair or whether the repairs can be delayed.

If you need to report a problem with Gloucestershire’s roads or paths please use the following link to do so: www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/reportit

The AA are also urging people to report potholes to their local authority or the Department of Transport through social media, using #FlagitFunditFillit

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