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Injury to Olympic champion highlights pothole problem

Andrew Bradley, head of the Manchester cycling team at Leigh Day advises all cyclists to report potholes to try and banish them from our roads

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Andrew joined Leigh Day in 2014 as head of the firm's newly-opened Manchester office. Andrew leads the team handling personal injury claims on behalf of claimants, in particular those injured whilst cycling or involved in other sporting activities.
Olympic cycling gold medallist Dani King suffered 5 broken ribs and a collapsed lung after a rider in the group she was cycling with hit a pothole whilst on a training ride in Cardiff, bringing down Dani and a number of other riders.

The accident brought the problem of potholes into the newspapers, but it is just one of many similar incidents involving cyclists occurring every week.

The cycling team at Leigh Day receives frequent queries resulting from cyclists who have suffered injury and damage to their bike and equipment as a result of a poorly maintained road surface.

A recent report from British Cycling recommended that the government should grant at least £10 per head per year to local authorities to help fund upgrades to existing roads for the benefit of cyclists.

At present funding amounts to around £2 per head. It is hoped that an increase would allow local authorities to be more proactive in dealing with the maintenance of their roads.

The UK is currently ranked a lowly 30th in the World Economic Forum’s “quality of roads” list, behind many of the other major European nations.

Unfortunately for those suffering injury or loss as a result of potholes, securing compensation is far from straightforward.

The Highways Act 1980 requires the local authority to maintain the highway, and authorities must show that they have in place a reasonable system of inspection and repair.

If the authority can demonstrate that their systems are reasonable, they will more often than not be able to defend any claim against them.

The definition of a reasonable system will depend on the type of road and the volume of traffic, but it is common for minor roads to be inspected no more than once a year.

It is therefore quite possible that a cyclist injured as a result of a pothole in November 2014 will find their claim rejected on the basis that the council carried out an annual inspection in December 2013. Given how quickly potholes can appear, particularly in cold weather, this situation is unsatisfactory.

However, the courts are generally reluctant to impose too high a standard upon local authorities as they recognise that, given the resources available, there is only so much cash-strapped councils can do to proactively maintain roads.

The situation is different if the council is made aware of a pothole in between scheduled inspections.

A local authority may legitimately argue that if nobody has told them about a pothole they cannot be expected to do anything about it.

However, if a pothole has been reported they are under a duty to take steps to deal with it. A local authority that has been told about a pothole and done nothing about it is far less likely to receive a sympathetic hearing from the court.

To this end there are various resources allowing cyclists to report potholes to local authorities, including:

www.gov.uk/report-pothole
www.fixmystreet.com
www.streetrepairs.co.uk

Therefore, whilst we wait for the government to heed British Cycling’s request for greater investment, perhaps the best way to help fellow cyclists is to put pressure on local authorities by reporting the location of any hazardous potholes you come across whilst out riding.

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