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Vehicle Damage Due To Poor Road Surfaces - Pot(hole) Luck Or Do You Have A Claim?

In the wake of the harshest winter for several decades and continuing local authority cutbacks, the level of complaints from motorists about the state of our roads is growing rapidly. Therefore, if a vehicle sustains damage while travelling along a poorly maintained road and the cost of repair is substantial, can its owner make a claim against the local authority?

Damage to cars and other light vehicles caused by being driven over potholes is always frustrating (as well as expensive), but whether the council can be made responsible for the cost of repair (of the vehicle) depends largely on how substantial the pothole is.

If a pothole is no deeper than about an inch, the council is unlikely to be considered negligent, but then, a hole of this size probably wouldn't cause much damage anyway.

If the hole deeper than that, and damage to a vehicle or personal injury to driver or passengers is reasonably serious, a claim can certainly be made but the fundamental problem is that a council is only liable to take reasonable care. The law says it cannot reasonably be expected to instantly repair every single hole that comes along, or even to be aware of it. Having said that, it also must have a reasonable system of inspection in place that ensures checks are made at acceptable intervals to see whether holes are developing.

Thus, an aggrieved motorist who can establish that it would have been reasonable for the council to inspect the road once a month, and also that the hole has been there for significantly longer than a month, may have a claim. As to what reasonable inspections are, this alters according to the road. It might well be reasonable for the council to check Princes Street once every few weeks. On the other hand a quiet country lane might only be inspected once a year.

Much of the damage caused by potholes occurs because the driver is unable to slow down in time due to insufficient or warnings or the complete absence of warnings. This brings us back to the issue of reasonable inspection - a council's responsibility to issue a warning depends on how quickly it should be expected to know a problem existed. However, once a council is aware of the existence of any potholes substantial enough to cause damage or personal industry, then it does have a duty of reasonable care for the safety of road users, which might well involve erecting a "slow down" sign or fencing off the pothole pending repair.

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