Court success: raised ironworks negligence claim dismissed

  • A local authority customer recently faced a negligence claim after a serious road accident involving ironworks
  • The claimant was badly hurt after falling off his moped
  • We discuss how this case ended in a successful outcome for our customer

This court case followed the injury of a motorcyclist after the front wheel of his moped struck ironworks on a public road.

The claimant alleged there had been a breach of section 41 of the Highways Act 1980 – specifically that the local council had caused or permitted the road to be a danger and failed to take adequate measures to warn those using the highway of the danger posed.

Our customer, Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council, was the first defendant in the case, as the highways authority. The second defendant was Tarmac Limited, the contractor employed by the council to resurface the road.

The claimant also alleged Tarmac Limited had failed to ramp the works, and left a hazard that was at least 60mm above the surface of the carriageway.

The council contended that the highway was adequately inspected, but that in any event, it was in the process of being resurfaced. Both defendants maintained that the ironworks had been ramped at the time of the accident, and disputed the claimant’s version of the circumstances.

The council also sought to rely on the contractual indemnity owed to it by its contractor.

Claimant “overstated” position, says judge

The judge dismissed the claim. The claimant was unable to prove causation – i.e. that on the balance of probabilities, the accident was caused by negligently exposed ironworks. Under cross-examination, the claimant was unable to clearly explain what had caused him to fall off his moped. The judge remarked that the claimant had clearly “overstated” the position and that in reality, he had no idea what had caused his accident.

The police report from the night of the accident also confirmed there was ample signage warning road users of the dressing works, contradicting evidence given by the claimant’s daughter.

The judge said it would have been extraordinary for the police not to have contacted the council’s out-of-hours service if the area of carriageway in question was as dangerous as she had alleged.

Furthermore, he held that photographs she had taken of the ironworks, which showed no ramps in place, did not reflect the condition of the road when the accident happened. The photographs had been taken the following day, and the court heard that in the intervening period, Tarmac Limited had removed the temporary ramping to allow the dressing works to be progressed.

Causative link between “negligence” and injury not proven

In conclusion, the judge held that the claimant had failed to demonstrate a causative link between the alleged negligence and his injury. The judge deemed it likely the claimant had either lost control of his moped or had driven too fast over the ironworks. The judge also found that the ironworks had been appropriately ramped.

Despite the claimant’s concessions in cross-examination, the judge did not suggest there was any dishonesty. Rather, the judge felt this was a case of the claimant’s solicitors not going over the witness statement with their client in sufficient detail, as the statement was clearly at odds with the evidence given at the trial.

This claim was handled by Emma Oldfield, in our Leeds Casualty Team. Sarah Davisworth, at Forbes Solicitors, acted for Zurich on behalf of our policyholder, Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council.

This summary was prepared by Sarah Wilkinson at Forbes Solicitors and Felix Boon.