No Duty On Highway Authority to Erect Barriers or Warning Signs


28 January, 2016

O'Hara v Rochdale MBC

DJ Osborne - Oldham County Court

The Claimant alleged that she had tripped and fallen on the edge of a raised metal cover on a quiet residential street. Prior to the accident, the defect had been noted for repair on a scheduled highway inspection and a repair had been ordered within 20 working days. The defect had also been marked with white paint by the highways inspector.

The repair was completed within the allotted time, but unfortunately the Claimant had tripped in the interim period. The question before the Court therefore was whether the 20 day repair category allocated to the repair was appropriate. The defect had only just met the intervention criteria and was described by the Defendant as being "an unremarkable defect, at an unremarkable location". As a result, the Defendant maintained that the 20 day repair period was entirely appropriate.

At trial, there was considerable discussion about the primary purpose of the white paint used by highway inspectors to mark defects for repair. It was made clear by the Defendant that whilst the paint is not specifically used as a warning to pedestrians, the presence of paint inevitably puts pedestrians on notice of a potential issue.

The Claimant contended that some better highlighting of the area was appropriate. However, when pressed further, Claimant's counsel could offer no better solution than yellow or brighter white paint!

In his Judgment, DJ Osborne found that the 20 day repair time allocated to the defect was reasonable and he further noted that for the Local Authority to have numerous standards of repair was simply not required. In relation to the issue of warnings, he noted that the area had been marked with white paint and he took the view that it would be disproportionate to ask the local authority to erect barriers or warning signs at areas such as this given that it was in an area of low footfall. He considered that the actions of the highway authority had been reasonable and he dismissed the claim.

Forbes comment

The issue of whether a local authority should erect warning signs, barriers and/or use paint to mark defects is an issue which often comes up at trial. We were pleased that the Court has continued to adopt a common sense stance on this issue.

For more information contact Elizabeth Bower


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