Court dismisses cyclist's footpath incident claim

  • A cyclist who was flung over the handlebars of his bicycle claimed a square-hinged water utilities cover was to blame for various injuries
  • The claimant argued an open square-hinged water utilities cover was to blame for various injuries
  • The judge determined there was no evidence put before the Court to suggest that the First Defendant should have done more

A judge has dismissed a personal injury claim against the First Defendant, which centered around a hinged water utilities cover causing a cycle accident.

Background

The Claimant was involved in an accident when cycling along a path in May 2016 and alleged that his rear wheel went over a square-hinged water utilities cover.  The cover flipped open causing the rear wheel of the bicycle to become trapped.  The Claimant states that he was flung over the handlebars of his bicycle and landed on the ground.  He sustained various soft tissue injuries and grazes, as well as suffering from cycle specific anxiety.  We acted for the First Defendant, Conwy County Borough Council.

The law

The claim was brought against the First Defendant on the basis of breach of duty under s.41 of the Highways Act 1980 and/or negligence and against the Second Defendant on the basis of breach of duty pursuant to s.81 New Road and Street Works Act 1991 and/or negligence.

Legal arguments

The Claimant alleged that the First Defendant had permitted the cover to be or become a danger and had failed to take any adequate measures to maintain or repair the cover to make the footpath reasonably safe when the First Defendant ought to have known that the cover or its constituent parts including hinges and/or locking mechanism was defective and/or in a dangerous condition.

It was also alleged that the First Defendant had failed to react to earlier accidents and/or complaints made about the dangerous condition of the cover and/ or other defective covers on the same pavement.

The First Defendant denied liability and sought to rely on a section 58 defence. The First Defendant argued that the pavement was subject to a system of regular inspection. The alleged defect had not been noted on the pre or post accident highway inspections. The Second Defendant admitted that it was responsible for the stop tap box cover and also sought to rely on the First Defendant’s section 58 defence.

Decision

After hearing all the evidence at the trial, the Judge concluded that the Claimant had fallen from his bicycle in a busy area. However, the Judge determined that the Claimant had not proved what had caused him to fall off his bike. The Claimant’s evidence as to the mechanism of the accident was unclear. For instance, the Claimant was not sure if the front wheel of his bicycle went over the lid of the stop tap box, nor could he explain what had happened with the back wheel of the bicycle. The Judge noted that the stop tap box lid was flat prior to the accident and therefore it was not reasonably foreseeable that the accident would have occurred. The Judge therefore dismissed the claim.

For the sake of completeness, the Judge also considered the Council’s system of inspection and found that they had a reasonable system of inspection. The most recent inspection was done from a vehicle, and did not involve ‘testing’ the drain covers in any way. The Judge specifically commented that the visual inspections by the council’s inspectors were entirely appropriate. There was no evidence put before the Court to suggest that the First Defendant should have done more.

Furthermore, the Court commented that it was also acceptable that the Second Defendant could rely on the First Defendant’s defence. It was noted that there had been a small cluster of complaints in relation to stop tap box covers in the area. The covers were identified and repaired by the Second Defendant and there were only a small number of lids that had been problematic. The Judge noted that he would not have found either of the Defendants liable even if he had found that the accident had occurred in the manner alleged by the Claimant.

The case was dismissed.

Comentary

This was a fantastic outcome for the First Defendant. The First Defendant had been extremely sceptical about the Claimant’s description of the accident from the outset of the claim. In addition, it was encouraging to note that the Judge was satisfied that the visual inspection of the stop tap box by the council’s inspectors was ‘entirely appropriate’ even though the inspection had been performed from a moving vehicle by way of driven inspection.