Court success: pedestrian’s road stumble injury claim dismissed

  • A pedestrian claimed that while crossing a carriageway, he stumbled and injured his ankle
  • He alleged that the road was in a dangerous state because the local authority, Rochdale Borough Council, had failed to maintain and repair it
  • The judge dismissed the claim, ruling that the allegations had not been proven and that the authority’s highway inspectors had carried out adequate safety checks

Background

The claimant alleged that on 3 May 2015, he was crossing a road near his home when his left foot tripped in a defect situated in the centre of the carriageway. He stumbled forwards without falling to the ground, and sustained an injury to his left ankle.

The law

It was alleged that the defendant, Rochdale Council, had acted negligently and/or in breach of section 41 of the Highways Act 1980.

Legal arguments

The claimant argued that the council had failed to maintain and repair the road, and it was in a dangerous state to pedestrians.

The council denied liability in full and put the claimant to strict proof of factual and medical causation. The council relied on a section 58 defence.

The accident location was subject to an annual inspection regime. The defect had been noted during a routine inspection, and had been reported for repair within 20 working days. Unfortunately, the accident occurred before the defect had been repaired.

The council had not received any reports or complaints about the accident, and it was not aware of any other accidents at the location.

During the trial, the claimant was cross-examined in relation to the circumstances of the accident and in relation to his two previous claims for personal injury in 2008 and 2009.

During the course of the litigation, the council asked the claimant to provide a description of his claims history.

The claimant admitted to a previous highway tripping claim against the authority but did not mention a subsequent claim in 2009 against another highway authority. The claimant argued that he had simply forgotten about that claim. However, the judge considered that was difficult to accept, given that evidence was produced to show that he had received £9,500 in compensation.

In addition, the council had obtained a copy of the witness statement the claimant had provided in support of his 2009 claim. In the statement, he mentioned suffering a previous knee injury in 2008, and noted that it had been caused when he was playing with his daughter rather than as a result of a tripping accident on the highway.

The claimant attempted to provide a convoluted and baffling explanation for the discrepancy. He also relied on three witnesses in support of his claim.

One witness gave evidence to say that the general condition of the road had been poor for some time, but could not say for how long the alleged defect had been present pre-accident.

The second witness claimed to have seen the accident. In the course of cross-examination, a number of significant inconsistencies emerged between the account of the claimant and that of the eyewitness.

A third witness, who said in his witness statement that he suffered an accident because of the same defect in 2013, was not in attendance at the trial and no weight was attached to his witness statement.

Decision

The judge concluded that the claimant had not proved on the balance of probabilities that the accident had occurred as alleged and dismissed the claim.

She considered the section 58 defence and found that the defendant’s highway inspectors had carried out skilful pre-accident inspections. When the defect was picked up during inspection and marked for repair, it was correctly prioritised for a 20-working day repair.

The defendant sought a finding of fundamental dishonesty but the judge declined to do so despite having grave concerns about the claim.

Comentary

We are delighted with the outcome of this case.

We were able to discredit the claimaint’s allegations by obtaining documents relating to his previous claims (including his witness evidence) and by putting appropriate Part 18 questions to the claimant.

The evidence was then used to undermine both the claimant’s credibility and the claim as a whole at trial.

This claim was handled by Mohammed Hai from our Claims Fraud Investigation Team. Our panel solicitors, Forbes, represented us at court.