Proving council liability in tripping accident compensation claims


Succeeding with claims for personal injury compensation isn’t always easy and although we take as much hassle out of the claims process as possible, some types of personal injury claim prove much harder to succeed with than others.  One such type is public liability compensation claims, usually after a fall or trip on a damaged section of footpath, a trip in a pothole or on a broken section of local authority owned pavement or highway.  In order to win claims for slipping and tripping injury compensation, claimants must gather as much evidence as possible to help their solicitor force the defending insurers to admit liability.

What the law says about proving liability

Claiming personal injury compensation after a tripping accident isn’t easy due to precedents set by the courts, which has made defending such claims fairly easy for local authorities.  This is because the courts have decided in previous judgements that the onus to succeed in such claims should rest on the claimant.  The courts have found that to prove liability in tripping accident compensation claims, claimants must show that a local authority or landowner responsible for the site of their accident had known that a hazard was present before the client was injured.  Furthermore, they must demonstrate that the local authority had reasonable time to inspect that area of pavement/highway and should have repaired the hazard and removed the risk of someone suffering an injury as a result.  The basic rule is that claimants need to prove that the hazard responsible for their accident had been in situ for a minimum of at least 6 months before their accident.  Although this can be a hard thing to prove, it can be done and it helps to know what to do after an accident as this will help you to ensure that you have the right evidence to support your claim.

Reporting, recording and gathering evidence

Precedent states that any local authority highways departments should (in most cases) inspect every section of their roads and footpaths once every 6 months.  An inspector should record the roads and pavements that they have inspected and the local authority should hold a record of the inspections that they have carried out.  If when defending a claim for slip and trip personal injury compensation, a highways department can provide a report that shows that they inspected the area where a claimant was injured within the last 6 months and no defect was found, it is most likely that the claimant will not succeed with their claim.  Whilst this will see a claimant not win any compensation, they will not face any costs.

However, just because a council provide an inspection report, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be held liable.  In some cases, courts have found that the inspection regime of a local authority was inadequate.  For example, in one instance a court Judge hearing a claim for compensation against a local authority was of the opinion that the inspection was inadequate and although they had checked the pavements, they hadn’t done so thoroughly and were therefore liable for the claim that they faced.  This was because the inspection was a simple drive by inspection of the streets and estates, rather than an on foot walk through.  On some streets, a drive by inspection may be adequate, but on others a hazardous section of footpath could be obstructed from view if it was not walked.  Of course, the local authority welcome reports of dangerous and broken footpaths and can act on such reports.  Although it has been reported that there is a backlog of pothole repairs, the onus to repair a defect quickly is still there.

As with all accidents, it is important to report and record your accident correctly.  Don’t worry if you don’t know how to do this as we can advise you how to make sure that you do report the details to the right people quickly.  When you report a tripping accident and injuries to a local authority, they should give you a report log number and may well send you an incident report form.  Before sending this in, we think the best advice is to advocate hiring a specialist personal injury solicitor to run your claim, as this will give you the best chance of succeeding with a claim for personal injury compensation.  However, in order to maximise your prospects of succeeding with your claim, there are things you can do to help your solicitor win your claim.

Local witnesses

When it comes to proving that a hazard has been in situ for a sufficient period of time to enable you to prove that the local authority are liable for your accident, there may well be people out there who can act as a witness to the hazard that caused your injuries.  For example, if a pothole has been on a footpath by a row of houses, it is likely that the residents of those houses will know how long it has been there for.  Also, one of them may have reported it to the council already.  As an injured claimant, you should approach these residents and ask if they know about the pothole and how long it has been there.  If one of them does, you could ask them if they would be willing to act as a hazard witness.  This isn’t a witness to the accident, but to state that the hazard has been in situ for a certain period of time, where it is and how big it is.  When tripping accidents occur in shopping areas or by other public buildings, you should approach shop staff and ask them the same, or a postman if you see one.  Most people are angry about broken pavements and are more than willing to act as a witness to support a claimant as they know that a successful claim will help to make sure that the local authority speed up their inspection and repair regime.

We understand that it is hard to know if you whether you have a valid claim for tripping accident compensation and with this in mind, why not contact us to discuss your situation.  We have years of experience in working on such claims and expert solicitors with a fantastic track record of winning claims for tripping accident victims.  Contact us and make your claim today.

19 questions have been answered below, why not ask your own?

  1. I recently tripped over a broken pavement, the pavement got mended a few day after. The council have denied liability. How ever I took photos of the pavement with the date of the accident. Can I still pursue this.

    • I would very much like to view the photographs you have taken of the broken pavement that caused you to fall. Please can you email these to me at: along with a full description of the accident and the height/depth of the tripping hazard listed. If you have any correspondence from the council, please forward the same to me. I realise that the council have denied liability at this stage. It maybe a strong defence, but without viewing the photographs it would be hard to offer a view on that.

  2. I have solicitors dealing with a claim for me but I have been asked if anyone else has reported the defect that made me trip. It was a defective drain and chunks were broken off of the concrete around it. When I tripped, I went straight onto the pavement, starting on my right side then my body twisted to the left side.

    I have been asking around but no one else has come forward to say that they had reported the hazard. The Council involved say that the area was inspected last year but it may not have been there then? I don’t know what to do. I’m an old age pensioner (66yrs old).

    • In cases of tripping accident compensation, the courts have allowed local authority highways departments what they say is a reasonable time frame to inspect their highways/pavements and make repairs of any actionable defects or hazards found. As such, the courts have ruled that local authority highways inspectors should check the pavements and roads within their remit at least every 6 months. To that end, if the council can provide an inspection report that shows that an area was inspected within the past 6 months with no defect present, it becomes very hard to succeed with a claim against them.

      In such circumstances, the claimant will then need to locate an independent witness to the defect or hazard – not someone who saw the accident, but was aware of the hazard and reported it to the council – thus proving that their inspection was inadequate.

      Have you knocked doors of the properties adjacent to the hazard? The other option you could employ would be to run some searches of the area on Google Streetview – the images will be dated and if you can see the hazard/defect in situ 6 months or more before you fell, you could print those off and hand the same to your Solicitors.

  3. I live in N.i and tripped and fractured two bones in my left wrist an two ribes
    The accident happened at an inspection chamber which is not level with the contour of the surface and the tarmac has broke away from the top of the main hole but both the water service and the roads service denie ownership yet this loco was incorperated by adoption by roads service when they carriedout repairs to main road a number of years ago
    The loco of the accident was a lane way that gave excess for residents to the rear of their property from the main road
    Any advice would be helpfull in this matter

    • The law in Northern Ireland differs to that of England & Wales (and also Scotland) and personal injury compensation claims within the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland are processed and funded differently to the rest of the UK. As such, we would recommend that you seek the advice of a specialist Solicitor working within the Northern Ireland legal system.

  4. I had a fall on a pavement that was badly cracked and sticking up and hurt my knee. I made a claim against the council and they said they were not liable because they had a regular inspection. However, the inspection forms they sent me made no reference to the area in question. I have sent details to Thompson and Slater Gordon who say they can’t act but do not say why. Since the fall the pavement area in question was repaired within a couple of weeks and is now smooth tarmac but the same pavement has several more areas that required repair (approximately 10 or more separate areas that were highlighted in yellow paint) which were all highlighted at the same time and would not have all come up for repair at the same time, therefore regular inspections cannot happen. There are still blocks sticking up in the same area that I fell that have had nothing done to them and they have been like this since my fall over 2 years ago! I have had to have physio and attend hospital for my knee since the accident and still have a lump on the knee that the specialist says will always be there as it was caused by the trauma. This means that I no longer feel comfortable wearing skirts. Do you think I should be able to claim against the council?

    • The courts have previously found that it is unreasonable to expect a local authority to ensure that there are no hazards whatsoever on their footpaths. Therefore, they have ruled that as long as a local authority have a reasonable inspection regime in place that involves checking and identifying actionable defects for repair they will not be liable should someone have an accident.

      The only way that you are likely to succeed now – given that the claim has already failed – is to be able to demonstrate that the inspection carried out was not sufficient or that it was inadequate. Do you know if the inspection of the area where you fell was done on foot or via a drive-by inspection?

      • From the lengthy report they sent to demonstrate their ‘on foot’ inspection there was nothing to indicate that this area had been inspected at all. I asked them where it was and they indicated a page that was not the correct area and in fact was at the other end of the road. As i said they had about 10 different areas they marked up for repair at the same time all along the road!

  5. I had an accident at work while working for a local government authority. They have admitted liability, my solicitor has sent them compensation details but they have not been back in touch. She extended the deadline because apparently the case worker has left and it was handed over to somebody else. But I still have no offer and there is only a few days left until the deadline. Can anybody advise me in what is going on, I don’t really fancy going down the court route are they with holding evidence or just burying there heads.

    • If the defendant is not responding within the standard time frame, it is usual practice for the claimant Solicitor to offer an extension to the deadline and await response. If the defendant continues to fail to cooperate and respond as per the law, the only option is for a Solicitor to issue proceedings and bring the defendant before a court as the court has the legal authority to force them to disclose information, decide upon a settlement and ensure payment.

      • Ok so I’ve still had no answer for a settlement so I guess my solicitor is going to start court action. If this is the case can they just make one offer instead of the 3?

        • If the matter goes to court, a Judge will decide the value of the claim based on evidence from both sides of the claims process – if the two sides are unable to agree mutually.

  6. Hello. My teenage son (Joe has autism/learning disabilities) tripped over some rusty metal fence protruding onto a public footpath. He suffered cuts, grazes and hurt his wrist, the incident upset him very much. I put in a claim (Reading borough council) for Joe but have now received a decision telling us to redirect the claim to the Landowner. The reason and information they give me contradicts information I have from emails etc. Your advice would be very much appreciated. Thankyou.

    • Have you instructed a specialist personal injury compensation Solicitor to act in this case? If not, contact us and let us put the details of Joe’s accident to one of our specialist tripping accident compensation Solicitors. Our specialist Solicitors will be able to conduct a land registry search to locate the correct landowner and therefore defendant in this claim if it is shown not to be Reading Borough Council.

      When claiming compensation, the claim must be brought against the correct landowner and it would appear that Reading Borough Council are denying that it is they who own or manage the accident locus in this case.

      If you would like to speak with us about this and get some further help, please call us on 01225430285 or fill in a claim form on our site and we’ll contact you to discuss this in greater detail.

  7. A friend of mine fell in a car pub car park sustaining facial injuries requiring hospital treatment. She also had to have 5 days off work due to the injuries . Should she report the incident to the local authority as this should have been re[ported under RIDDOR and can she request a copy of the RIDDOR report

    Also do you think she has a claim

    • Whether or not your friend has a viable claim for tripping accident compensation will depend on what caused her to trip and whether or not the cause would be deemed to be sufficiently dangerous to be able to hold the defendant liable. In order for us to be able to advise on this, we would need sight of photographic evidence of the hazard that caused your friend to trip so that we could then ascertain whether or not it meets the criteria needed to warrant a claim for compensation.

      There are other issues to consider that could weaken or improve the prospects of success with any claim that may follow. For example, was the matter properly reported to the Pub in question and did they make a note of this in writing (accident book)? When presenting at Hospital was your friend impaired due to alcohol? Being drunk does not preclude one from being able to make a claim for compensation but it can be seen as contributory negligence.

      Please forward any photographs to us via: with a brief description of what happened so that we can evaluate the hazard responsible and then advise further as to whether or not a claim for tripping accident compensation can be made.

      With regards to the RIDDOR reporting of this matter, it would be a wise idea to contact RIDDOR directly to discuss with them as to whether this was reported or should have been reported.

  8. I am claiming against Knowsley council. I tripped on a pothole and broke my ankle. They have been in touch and said they will not admit liability they say the area was inspected on 17th December 2015 and at the stage the defect was not apparent I broke it in March I have medical records and proof of pothole will I be eligible for a claim.

    • David

      In your case, the council have raised what is known as a Section-58 defence. This defence is a commonly used one by highways departments when facing claims for compensation for tripping accident claims.

      In previous cases, the courts have stated that it is fair for local authorities to be expected to ensure that their pavements and highways are safe for use. The courts have recognised that local authorities should have a reasonable time frame to identify and repair any hazards and that to succeed with a claim for compensation, a claimant must demonstrate that a hazard was sufficiently large and in situ for a sufficiently long period to make it an actionable claim.

      In your case, the local authority are stating that the defect was not present or was too small to be repaired when inspected in the December and have rejected your claim.

      This does not however, mean that you must accept this and give up. Have you been liaising with the council directly or have you had a specialist injury compensation Solicitor working on this for you? In many cases, we find that when people have tried handling a claim themselves, they reach the stalemate that you have – a denial of liability.

      Over the years, we have successfully proven that potholes or defects in pathways have been present for many months – far before the local authorities claimed that they’d inspected an area. We can find section-58 hazard witnesses – people who live in the area where the hazard was situated and are willing to be a witness to the fact that the pothole was present for many months. We have also been able to demonstrate that the inspection regimes used by the highways departments have been inadequate and therefore not fit for purpose and had denials of liability overturned in to admissions.

      I suggest that you contact us by email – and list your contact information and provide the photographs etc that you have. We’ll then get in touch to give you our view, with a hope of being able to instruct one of our specialist tripping accident compensation solicitors to take this further for you.

      We look forward to hearing from you.


      Ian Morris

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