Sunken Paving Slabs Result in Payout for Personal Injury Claimant


The Law Of... suing the council

Walking along the pavement, minding your own business, is not generally considered an activity fraught with danger. The following case, however, shows that when a council fails in its duty of care, even seemingly harmless things can result in injury.

The Law Of... suing the council

Sunken Paving

It was an autumnal evening when Robin Straker left the Penny Black pub in Alnwick, headed home following a couple of drinks with a friend. As they walked along one of the lanes running adjacent to the back of the pub, they spotted a group of youths approaching from the opposite direction and as Mr Straker moved to let them by, disaster struck.

Before he knew it, he was on the ground clutching a badly twisted ankle, as his friend stood over him laughing, not realising the extent of the injury. What had brought him to the floor was an area of depressed paving surrounding a sunken manhole cover and although, with the help of his friend, he managed to hobble home, Mr Straker required further medical attention due to the injuries he'd sustained that evening.

Duty of the Council

Uneven, broken, wobbly, or generally ill-maintained paving slabs have long been a cause of mishap and injury in the UK. Accidents involving raised slabs, with people tripping on flagstones which aren't level with the ones surrounding it, were particularly prevalent at one time.

A concerted effort during the first decade of the 21st century to renew pavements that had fallen into disrepair meant that the scandal of hazardous pathways fell from the public eye, but this didn't eradicate the problem completely.

It is the duty of a council to ensure that the highways (including pavements) within its authority are properly maintained and allow for safe passage of both motorists and pedestrians. This is covered by the Highways Act of 1980 (Section 41).

In Mr Straker's case, the local authority – Northumberland County Council – had failed to reduce the substantial risk the sunken pavement posed, resulting in the accident and damage to his right ankle which was later revealed to be a soft tissue injury, coupled with a minor fracture.

These combined to aggravate longstanding issues which caused him considerable discomfort when engaging in his occupation as a roofer.

Failing to Maintain the Highway

Lisa Wright, a Personal Injury Associate at Simpson Millar, took on Mr Straker's claim and asserted that Northumberland County Council had been negligent, breaching their statutory duty by:

  • Failing to maintain the highway at a reasonable level in accordance with its duty under the Highways Act 1980 (Section 41)
  • Causing and/or permitting the highway surface to become and remain a danger
  • Failing to take adequate measures to inspect, maintain and repair the highway
  • Failing to provide warnings such as signs, notices or barriers
  • Allowing the highway to present a foreseeable risk of injury
  • Exposing the Claimant to a foreseeable risk of injury or harm which was known or ought to have been known to be present.,/li>

The Council admitted liability, but disputed causation, stating that no offer of a settlement would be made.

Liability and Causation in a Negligence Case

There are 4 elements to a traditional negligence case. These are:

  • Duty – Determining the defendant has a 'duty' towards the claimant
  • Breach – Demonstrating that the 'duty' has been 'breached' (establishing liability)
  • Causation – Proving the defendant was the cause of the accident (liability) or the cause of the injury
  • Damages – Gaining recompense for economic (loss of earnings, expenses etc) and non-economic (pain, disability, mental trauma etc) drawbacks suffered by the Claimant

Proving liability doesn't necessarily guarantee a win and is, in fact, only half the battle in a claim such as this.

In Mr Straker's case, Northumberland County Council readily admitted that their duty had been breached, but not that they contributed to his injuries, saying he had not sufficiently proven his case. As far as the local authority was concerned, without causation, there would be no damages.

Making a Personal Injury Claim for Negligence

If a council has been negligent in its duty of care, resulting in an injury, you may be entitled to make a claim for compensation.

With a personal injury claim, there is a 3 year limitation, which means you must bring the action against the accused in either the first 3 years after the accident happened, or from when you discovered the injuries related to it. Except where children are concerned, or those incapable of looking after themselves, beyond this time limit you no longer have the right to seek legal redress.

Making a claim sooner, as opposed to later, is always the recommended course of action, as it ensures the incident remains fresh in the minds of any witnesses that may be relied upon.

£4,000 Settlement

Following the defendant's response, Lisa Wright issued court proceedings on behalf of her client and a defence was filed. A trial, however, was avoided after the local authority accepted a Part 36 offer, with Simpson Millar securing a £4,000 settlement for Mr Straker.

Commenting on the outcome, Mr Straker said:

"Lisa was very professional, winning me more than I'd ever anticipated."

"It just goes to show that if an accident isn't your fault, you shouldn't give up. I would highly recommend Simpson Millar to anybody in a similar boat."

If you have been injured as the result of an accident that wasn't your fault, why not ask one of our Personal Injury team to take a look at your claim?

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