Succeeding with claims for personal injury compensation isn’t always easy and some types of claim prove much harder to succeed with than others. One such type is public liability compensation claims, often involving slip and trip accidents. Many of these claims are made against the local council after a fall or trip on a damaged section of pavement, curb or pothole.
Although council liability can be a hard thing to prove, it can be done and below we’ll guide you through what to do after tripping and injuring yourself.
What the law says about proving council liability
Claiming personal injury compensation from the council 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.
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 injury.
When a claim is made against a council, they will often fall back on what’s known as the ‘Section 58 defence’. This essentially means they can provide documentation showing a reasonable system of maintenance, that there has been no previous accidents or complaints, and that repairs were made promptly.
However, if the council has failed to uphold its statutory duties and left a pavement in a dangerous condition for too long, they can be held liable for your injuries. For the council to accept liability, you need to prove two things about the hazard which caused your trip:
- Firstly, that the hazard sticks up or goes down by more than 25mm (1 inch).
- Secondly, that the hazard has been in place for at least 6 months.
Council road and pavement maintenance requirements
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.
In summary, councils have the following duties when it comes to roads and pavements:
- To have a system to regularly inspect roads and footpaths for accident risks
- To check busier routes more regularly than less used ones
- To repair any defects within a reasonable time
- To act on any public reports of dangerous surfaces within a reasonable time
- To signpost any hazards or dangers to the public
Failing to uphold these responsibilities could leave a council open to having to pay compensation to anyone injured as a result of their negligence.
Recording and gathering evidence
In order to win compensation, claimants must gather as much evidence as possible to help their solicitor force the defending insurers to admit liability. If you haven’t had medical treatment, it is likely that your injuries will not be seen as sufficiently serious to warrant a claim for compensation. This is because medical evidence is needed to support your claim. If you have been suffering in silence and haven’t seen the GP, you still can. If the GP is happy to note that your injuries are consistent with those suffered as a result of a slip or trip, you can then prove your injuries and pursue a claim.
Even if your injuries are severe, the hazard must still have a vertical tripping edge in excess of 25mm for you to have a valid claim. That’s a fairly easy thing for a claimant to identify when they look at what’s caused their fall, and photographs of the hazard can be taken for proof.
The more complex issue is proving how long the raised flagstone, pothole or uneven pavement surface has been in situ. The claimant needs to demonstrate that the hazard that caused their accident has been in situ for a minimum of 6 months, often 12 months. So how do you do this?
To greatly increase the strength of your tripping accident compensation claim, you can obtain witness evidence from local shop keepers, residents or other regular users of a footpath or pavement regarding the condition of the pavement. These people will not have witnessed the claimant’s accident, but instead can be a witness to a hazard being present. They can state where the hazard is, what it is, the rough dimensions of the hazard and how long it has been in situ. If an independent person can state that they have seen the hazard in situ for a minimum of 6 months and sign a statement to that effect, it helps to show that the local authority have either failed to inspect the area or carry out adequate repairs.
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.
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.
Reporting your accident to the council
If you’ve tripped on a public footpath, you must report to the relevant department of the local authority responsible for the area in which you fell. You should describe the hazard location, what the hazard is and what injuries you’ve had and what medical treatment you have received. If you have tripped on private land, such as in a car park of a shop, business premises or restaurant, you must make every effort to ensure that the party responsible for running the premises is informed.
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.
In normal circumstances, reporting an accident and a hazard to a potential defendant is really important. However, in cases of tripping accidents on a public footpath, make sure that you have photographs of the accident site showing the depth or height of the tripping hazard with clear measurements before you report your accident.
Before sending all this in, our best advice is to hire a specialist personal injury solicitor to run your claim, as this will give you the best chance of succeeding.
Claiming against the council for your injuries
If you can prove council liability and your injuries are severe enough, you will be eligible to claim compensation for them. Our solicitors claim for the following on your behalf:
- The pain and distress caused to you by the injuries sustained (the value of the injury element of the claim will be determined by medical evidence and a review of your medical records)
- Associated costs and losses (special damages) – such as lost income if you are unable to work as a result of the injury or damage to personal items – such as your spectacles or mobile phone and property
- Restrictions on your ability to fulfil your usual activities and social life
- Whether or not you have required any post accident care
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 or leave a question below? We have years of experience in working on such claims and expert solicitors with a fantastic track record.