16 April, 2009
By a judgment of HHJ Howarth in the Manchester County Court, Trafford MBC, represented by Forbes Solicitors, successfully defended a claim for damages following an HGV overturning at a roundabout in Trafford Park, Manchester on 31st March 2004.
The first claimant, Mr Dixon, was employed by the second claimant, Irwell Street Metal Company as a lorry driver. His job was to collect commercial and industrial waste material in a high sided articulated trailer and then deliver this waste to a land-fill site. The load would be filled into the trailer using a JCB shovel machine, starting at one end and slowly working along the length of the trailer to the other end. The load would then be compacted by machine to ensure further waste could be added. Once loaded with waste, Mr Dixon would then set off to drive to the land-fill site, having already carried out two similar return journeys on the day in question.
As Mr Dixon approached the roundabout it was his intention to go three-quarters of the way round the roundabout onto the continuation of Centenary Way. He positioned himself in the offside lane on his approach to the roundabout. While negotiating the roundabout his vehicle overturned.
Mr Dixon brought a claim for personal injuries while his employers brought a claim for the damage to their vehicle and other associated losses culminating in a total claim valued at up to £100,000 plus costs.
The claimants' case was that the Council were negligent and/or in breach of statutory duty by reason of a sudden change in the camber of the road surface at the roundabout. They also alleged that the surface of the highway was inadequate but this allegation was abandoned at the trial, as was a further allegation of inadequate signage on the approach to the roundabout.
The defendant's case was that the camber of the road was appropriate and safe, and did not contribute to the vehicle overturning, arguing that the vehicle overturned due to either or both of two factors, namely excessive speed and/or load shift caused by the load being unevenly packed. Further, the defendant argued that, pursuant to the Highways Act, their duty was to maintain the structure of the highway if it is out of repair, rather than having a responsibility for its layout, in accordance with the decision in Thompson v Hampshire CC.
Expert evidence was adduced to consider the speed of the vehicle at the time of the accident, where the vehicle was when it began to tip over and whether the alleged excessive cross-fall at the particular point on the roundabout was causative of the accident.
A site inspection, ahead of the second day of the trial took place, attended by the Judge. This showed numerous articulated lorries using the roundabout without difficulty.
Evidence was produced by way of CCTV footage of the actual incident, obtained from a factory that overlooks the roundabout, which cast doubt as to the Claimants' version of events.
The Judge concluded that the cause of the accident was mainly driving at an excessive speed, perhaps assisted by uneven loading. He found that the cross-fall at the roundabout did not play any causative part in the accident. He also held that there was no good legal basis for the claim under s.41 of the Highways Act, the failure to maintain, stating that he agreed that the decision in Thompson v Hampshire CC applied similarly in this case. He therefore struck out the claim and awarded the Council its costs.