Injured motorist sues Highways Authority because of black ice

A motorist who spent two days on a life support machine after crashing on black ice is suing the Highways Agency for failing to grit the road properly.

The 47-year-old man, who is a member of the Royal Navy, sustained serious injuries after his car was involved in a three-vehicle collision at Trewint, near Launceston, Cornwall on Jan 21.

He spent three weeks in hospital and is still suffering health problems as a result of the crash.

The victim, from Liskeard, Cornwall, was one of 30 drivers whose cars crashed on a 40-mile stretch of the A30, which runs running from Okehampton in Devon to Bodmin, Cornwall.

No motorist has mounted a successful claim against the agency.

But, according to Richard Biggs, the unnamed motorist’s solicitor, a successful claim could trigger action from other drivers.

While minor roads are the responsibility of local authorities, the burden of maintaining trunk routes rests with the Highways Agency.

The law says that the Highways Agency, and local authorities, have a duty to keep roads clear of snow and ice, as far as reasonably practicable," Mr Biggs said.

"We are looking for people who can tell us about the state of the road on that day, what accidents they saw and what the driving conditions and weather were like.

“It cost the region millions of pounds in lost business.”

The agency’s maintenance of the roads that day attracted criticism from local businessmen.

“In my view, there were two clear failures,” said Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council.

"Firstly, the Highways Agency was not proactive enough when there was plenty of intelligence beforehand that the conditions would be pretty serious.

“Then insufficient action was taken to ensure that road surfaces were safe. It is a classic case of an accident waiting to happen. Something went badly wrong on that day.”

The accident took place more than a week before Britain was hit by the worst blizzards in decades, which led to a shortage of grit and salt throughout the country.

A Highways Agency spokesman said salt was aid on the road earlier in the day, it was washed away by showers. Then the temperature dropped freezing the surface water.

:“We can’t predict what the weather’s going to be like just after it’s been gritted, that’s life. And even when roads are gritted, it’s not magic - drivers still need to take a great deal of care.”

What perhaps makes this story relevant to us as motorcyclists is that we are even more likely to bin it on black ice, and every year we hear stories of people who have gone down the road, but it may also open up the floodgates in respect of general rubbish left on the road such as deposits from vehicles or farms.

We will have to wait and see!

I don’t know that I’d support his claim, but I don’t know much about the state of the road, either.

But I’d love to see more of the people who come off on manhole covers and white lines pursuing complaints - there are things that can be done to make these less bad, and it’s pretty awful they’re not being done.

As far as I know councils and the highways agency have no legal obligation to grit the roads.

Even if they did, I think that he’ll fail in his quest.

Yes they do, but many authorities think that they can get away with it providing they keep the main arterial roads open and clear of ice.

Much will depend on the evidence available and the circumstances, and I hope I will get a transcript of the trial (if it gets that far which I am sure it will) at completion, but it will also work for general things like the type of paint used, manhole covers and general rubbish on the road, and also speed up response times to reports of diesel spillage.

I think that this is the key sentence: “We can’t predict what the weather’s going to be like just after it’s been gritted, that’s life. And even when roads are gritted, it’s not magic - drivers still need to take a great deal of care.”

Negligence will need to be proved, and that will be very difficult, especially as the courts will realise the significance of this … ie. floodgates being opened.

And this is the whole crux, we don’t know the full circumstances, but for a firm to accept the case (probably on a CFA) after carrying out a risk assessment (which they have to do), there must be more to this than meets the eye.

Highways authorities are notorious for assuming everything is OK rather than checking, but it will be an interesting case to follow as there will be issues regarding manhole covers, potholes, diesel spillage and a whole host of maintenance issues that will have to be addressed if they lose.

It will be interesting to see the result for sure, but I wouldn’t hold your breath!

The Authorities have set schedules for inspecting each category of road. “A” roads are inspected more frequently than “B” roads, which are inspected more often that “C” roads, and so on. As long as they have a form with the box ticked stating that a road was inspected according to the schedule, then they are deemed not to have been negligent. Manhole covers are often a different matter, as they are the resposibility of the owner of the apparatus which they house … but, I digress! The bottom line is that to fix something, they must know about it, so they rely largely on us to report highway defects, especially stuff like diesel spills. They can then fix them, but obviously within their own regulations, they are permitted a certain amount of time to do this according to the nature and position of the fault.

I know far too much about this sh1t! :ermm:

SP (17/11/2009)

I hear what you are saying, but the number of lapses I have come across when I have had to investigate Highways beggars belief sometimes.

You are right that they firstly must know about it, and then they have a reasonable period of time to make good. Some authorities are top notch, many I am afraid fall well short.

Unfortunately, like you I also know too much about this sh1t :wink: and that is worrying, but I agree with the majority of your comments.