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Motorcycle Accident Liability - Road Surface Claims

Motorcyclists can be particularly vulnerable to motorcycle accidents caused by lack of repair to roads when compared to four-wheeled vehicles. However, it is important you are able to distinguish between accidents caused by lack of repair of the road and accidents caused by items left in the road, which are either classified as highway spills, such as diesel near petrol stations, or debris in the highway, such as loads falling off vehicles or previous accident debris.

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Who Is Responsible For The Maintenance of Roads?

Highway Authorities

Every road, other than private roads, has a highway authority responsible for it. The more major roads are usually the responsibility of the Government, the Highways Agency. The minor roads are usually the responsibility of the local council.

What duties do the authorities have?

Their duty is to repair the structure of the highways if they are out of repair. To bring a claim you must prove your accident was caused by the state of the road. Where there were no witnesses, this can be hard to prove. Even if you can prove the state of the road was the cause of the accident, you must also prove the authority failed in its duty to maintain the road.

The highways authorities have a defence to show they had taken such care as was “reasonable” in the circumstances, to ensure the highway was not dangerous to traffic based upon:

  • The character of the highway
  • The standard of maintenance and state of repair that would normally be expected
  • Whether they knew or ought to have known about the condition of the highway
  • Whether it would have been appropriate to put up warning notices pending any repair

Highway authorities usually have a code of practice in place for inspections which can be accessed on the internet, failing which you can request a copy from them. Generally, provided they have complied with a code of practice, they are unlikely to be liable for any accident. In real terms inspections are often conducted by inspectors driving around in their cars and seeing if they can spot any defects. They will often be travelling at speed, moving with the flow of traffic, and the inspection itself can be very inaccurate as a result. Despite this, the Court usually accepts their evidence that a proper inspection was done.

If an accident is caused by a recently occurring defect in the road, then the authority is unlikely to be responsible, depending on what caused the defect. If the accident is caused by a more long-standing defect, particularly one which has been reported to the authority but they have failed to act upon, they are likely to be held responsible. However, proving the claim is usually difficult and if your case is that you are able to give evidence that the defect had been there for a considerable period of time before the accident they are likely to argue that you should have avoided it in any event.

As well as having to inspect the roads the authority is also responsible for maintaining records on reported accidents and their causes. You can request a copy of these for the road where you had your accident. If they show no other motorcycle accidents at the same location, particularly within the past 1 or 2 years, you are unlikely to have a case.

Will Legal Expenses Insurance cover my claim?

To add to the difficulties of pursuing a road surface claim, most legal expenses insurance policies specifically exclude such claims. This is because they are so hard to prove and so easy for the highways authorities to avoid liability on. You might therefore have to pay your own legal costs for pursuing a claim and even if a solicitor is prepared to take it on a Conditional Fee Agreement you would still have to pay your solicitor’s disbursements and the other side's costs if you lose.

Your next steps

There has been criticism in the past of the fact that the law gives practically no recourse to the victim of a road surface accident. Unfortunately, until the Government changes the law, the situation will remain as set out above. However, at Routh Clarke we have often been successful in pursuing road surface claims, why not call us today, to discuss the circumstances of your accident and we will let you know if we can help.

Call us on 01935 823883 to discuss your personal injury claim