Reasonable care taken despite icy incident

Pace v City and County Council of Swansea (Swansea County Court - 10 July 2007)

The claimant lost control of her car on a bend and brought a case was that the accident occurred because of the icy road. She alleged the highway authority had been negligent in failing to grit the road, thus breaching its statutory duty under s41(1A) of the Highways Act 1980.

The highway authority had a winter maintenance policy and contended that the road had been salted in the early hours of the morning. The claimant argued that insufficient salt had been used.

The judge accepted the highway authority's defence that the formation of localised pockets of ice was not inconsistent with the road having been gritted. The winter maintenance policy addressed the foreseeable risks efficiently but within manageable and sustainable restraints. To place almost limitless quantities of salt on the road might have increased the protection but would have done so at an entirely unrealistic and undesirable economic and environmental cost.

Comment

This appears to be the first reported case concerning the test of "reasonable practicability" under s41 (1A) of the Highways Act 1980, which came into force on 31 October 2003, reversing the decision of the House of Lords in Goodes v East Sussex County Council (2000). It emphasises the need for a formal winter maintenance plan reflecting best practice as set out in the relevant codes of practice. It also shows that courts will take into account all the circumstances including physical, financial and, perhaps surprisingly, environmental constraints when considering whether a highway authority has done what was reasonably practicable to address the risk of snow and ice. - Paul McClorey, BLM Manchester.

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