How does the Highways Act 1980 protect injury claimants?

If a person is injured in an accident on a public highway, and that accident was caused by a dangerous or unsafe road, a claim for personal injury can be pursued under the Highways Act 1980.

The Act states that highway agents - usually county councils - have a responsibility to ensure their roads are safe and properly maintained. When roads are not adequately maintained, and an accident occurs as a result, the highway agent can be held liable.

Which provisions in the Act relate to injury claims?

The Highways Act 1980 provides for the improvement, maintenance and creation of roads in England and Wales. The main part of the Act relevant to injury claims is Part 4 (Sections 36-61). Within this, highway agents have a duty to maintain and repair roads under their agreed remit.

Section 41 (1) states:

‘the authority who are for the time being the highway authority for a highway maintainable at the public expense are under a duty... to maintain the highway.'

This duty to maintain means that the highway agent must keep the road in such good repair, that it is reasonably passable for the ordinary traffic of the area.

As every highway agent is required to keep a list of the roads they must maintain, the correct defendant in any claim would be the corresponding local council.

What constitutes poor road maintenance?

According to the Act, a road is poorly maintained when it is not reasonably safe and passable. This constitutes a failure on the part of the highway authority to detect, repair or remove a defect or obstruction which makes a road dangerous.

Common road maintenance shortcomings which can lead to accidents - traffic, cycle or pedestrian - include:

  • Debris on the road
  • Damaged or obscured road signs
  • Potholes and defects
  • Roadway construction Inadequate salting of icy roads

A claimant, or a claimant's solicitor, pursuing an injury claim would need to prove that the part of the road where the accident occurred was not reasonably safe and that the accident was caused by its dangerous condition. However, not every defect will make a road dangerous or deem it legally unsafe.

How the Act is used to decide liability

One of the legal provisions in helping to decide whether a highway is safe is the test of reasonable foreseeability of danger. For example, it would be reasonably foreseeable that debris on a road could lead a motorist to crash, or that a pothole in a road could dismount and injure a cyclist.

In deciding liability in injury claims, the Courts are also guided by Section 58 (1) and 58 (2) (a-e) of the Highways Act 1980. This ensures they consider:

  • Whether the injured party contributed to the accident
  • The character of the highway and how it is used by traffic
  • The standard of maintenance appropriate for a highway of that character and the amount of traffic
  • The state of repair in which a person could reasonably expect to find a highway
  • Whether the highway authority could have been reasonably expected to know of the dangerous condition of the road
  • Whether warning signs were displayed where the highway authority did not have adequate time to repair it

Both parties - claimant and defendant - can provide evidence to prove that they were not at fault in any of these respects.

Overall, the Highways Act 1980 guides the injury claims process, giving both parties the grounds and legal provisions to argue their case.

See also:

Road accident compensation claims

What happened?

The claims process for a road traffic injury will depend on where and how the accident happened. Click the icons below for more information:

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