16 May, 2018
Sumner v Michael Colborne & Denbighshire County Council & Welsh Ministers (2018) EWCA Civ 1006
The Court of Appeal found that the highway authority did not owe a duty of care to highway users to cut back vegetation on land adjacent to the highway which interfered with drivers' views, where the obstruction to visibility could not be attributed to any positive act by the authority.
A cyclist had brought negligence proceedings after being struck by his car at a road junction. The car driver denied liability. He claimed that visibility at the junction was severely restricted by the presence of vegetation on a fenced-off parcel of land bordering the roads, for which the highway authorities were responsible.
It was contended that a danger had been created to highway users by changing the layout of the land at the junction in such a way as to allow vegetation to grow and obstruct visibility unless properly maintained. The Judge accepted that the duty of care to highway users, namely to secure the cutting back of shrubs that obstructed the highway or interfered with the view of drivers, was limited to the creation of dangers on the highway and did not apply to land adjacent to it. He also rejected the argument that the respondents were nevertheless liable because the vegetation projected onto the highway, finding that the very small amounts on or over the highway had not caused the obstruction complained of.
This is a significant case for both highway authorities and landowners generally. Drivers must take the highway network as they find it. The Court was reluctant to extend the law when a range of public law powers such as planning controls etc. already exist for dealing with objects that might affect visibility on the highway.