11 March, 2013
Forbes have recently successfully defended a claim brought against Calderdale MBC arising as a result of an accident on 5th January 2009. The Claimant's car had skidded on ice causing her to collide with a fence, sustaining both damage to her vehicle and personal injury.
The highway in question was a relatively quiet residential street; there was also a staff entrance to a primary school although the main entrance to the school was on a different (and gritted) road. It was the Claimant's case that the highway should have been gritted, especially bearing in mind its proximity to the primary school. The highway was not subject to precautionary gritting under the Council's Winter Maintenance Policy.
The matter was defended on the basis that the Council had ensured so far as was reasonably practicable that safe passage along the highway was not endangered by snow or ice. Calderdale MBC operated a Winter Maintenance Policy which saw 69% of the network gritted on a precautionary basis when the weather forecasts predicted ice/snow. The remaining 31% were then sub-categorised into 3 levels of priority; these would only be gritted after a request from the public. The road on which the Claimant sustained her accident was actually in the bottom category (3), i.e. if a complaint came in about a category 3 road at the same time as a complaint about a category 1 road, the category 1 road would always be gritted first. In the 10 years preceding the accident, there had not been a single complaint/request for gritting on this road.
After the Claimant's accident, the Council were notified of the presence of ice and gritting was carried out within 1 hour evidencing the robustness of the Council's system.
In giving judgment for the Defendant, the Judge complimented the Council upon their comprehensive and well - thought out policy as well as the sophisticated weather mapping and forecasting. The Judgment can pretty much be summed up in the Judge's comment 'What else could they [the Council] have done?'
This case reiterates the 'reasonable practicability' element of S41(1A). The highway authority's duty to ensure that safe passage along the highway is not endangered by snow and ice is not an absolute duty and claims brought by road users can be defended with evidence of a considered Winter Maintenance Policy and, of course, evidence that the same has been adhered to.