- Local authorities in England and Wales have paid out more than £32m in compensation over the past half a decade due to pothole-related injuries
- At least 425 cyclists have been killed or seriously injured due to poor or defective road surfaces since 2016
- We are urging the public to report potholes and gather strong evidence if injured
Councils across England and Wales have paid out more than £32 million in compensation due to injuries caused by potholes over the past five years – new figures revealed to our team have shown.
A mass freedom of information request to all local authorities responsible for repairing roads in England and Wales[i] showed that between 2017 and 2021, 157 councils settled 5,596 personal injury claims due to potholes, paying out £32,153,190 in compensation – an average of £5,745 per case.
Our data also revealed that Staffordshire, Northumberland, Derbyshire and Lancashire county councils, as well as Manchester City Council, forked out the most – a combined total of almost £17 million across 1,865 claims.
However, with the stats also showing that only 1 in 4 of the personal injury claims arising from potholes were settled by councils, we are urging the public to make sure they are aware of the steps they need to take if they have been injured as a result of a pothole or road defect.
Peter Jones, personal injury legal director, said: “Potholes are a plague on our roads and as our findings show, thousands of people are injured by them every year. However, claims can be difficult to prosecute due to a lack of evidence.
“Councils have a duty to keep highways in a reasonable state of repair. If they neglect to do so, they may be liable for any injury or damage caused. However, the chances of being successful in securing a settlement will depend largely on whether the pothole has already been reported to the local authority as councils have a statutory defence in that they cannot be held liable for a defect they are unaware of – provided they can show they have an adequate system of inspection in place.
“If local authorities can show they had someone drive up and down the road regularly and no pothole was spotted, the claim is likely to be dismissed. Councils have to show very little evidence that an inspection took place and the courts are particularly sympathetic due to budget restraints.
“In our experience, regular inspections by local authorities only need to occur as little as every six or 12 months, depending on the type of road. However, in winter or heavy rain, roads can turn into a mess after just a few weeks – becoming a danger to road users and, in particular, cyclists. While a pothole might result in an expensive visit to the garage for drivers, for cyclists, sometimes fatal or life-changing injuries could be the result.”
According to the Department for Transport’s latest figures[ii], since 2016, at least 14 cyclists have been killed and a further 411 seriously injured in the UK due to “poor or defective road surfaces”, such as potholes.
Peter said: “We act for cyclists who have sustained serious injuries as a result of potholes, often including broken jaws or collarbones or, tragically, fallen off their bikes and gone under another vehicle. While the seriousness of the incident may bear no relevance as to whether the council is liable, in our experience, those with catastrophic injuries are more likely to receive a settlement.
“The financial mechanisms often make it not worthwhile having this fight with a local authority if a serious injury hasn’t been sustained or without strong evidence gathered. However, everyone should be reporting potholes whenever they see them in order to make councils aware that there is a problem so they can take the necessary steps to get them fixed – preventing people from becoming injured.”
If a road user is unlucky enough to hit a pothole, there are certain steps they should take when it comes to gathering evidence that will help to bolster their claim.
Peter said: “Once it is safe to do so, take photographs of the hole, preferably using a recognisable object for size comparison, particularly in relation to the depth of the defect. Photographic evidence from as close to the time of the incident as possible is crucial if you are to make a claim.
“Wherever possible, get the details of witnesses who saw the incident as they will be able to confirm which pothole you hit and on what date and time. To help prove that the pothole was there prior to the council’s last inspection, speak to neighbours if you’re in an urban area as they may be able to tell you how long it has been there for. Alternatively, it’s worth scanning back on Google Earth, which has imagery going back years.
“If utilities firms have been working on the road, they may not have properly repaired the area afterwards, so it’s worth checking to see if works have occurred as this will also improve your settlement prospects.
“In general, people will be able to claim for general damages for injuries sustained, loss of income, repairs to the bike, and any care that’s required. In some cases, people will claim for more unusual things – for example, I’ve won a trial for a cyclist who developed a phobia of cycling after being injured by a pothole. As a result, she had to use the London Underground to get to and from work, which was covered in her settlement.
“Potholes certainly aren’t a minor nuisance – they can pose a serious safety risk, causing injuries and, in certain cases, death.”
Personal safety app Flare – which has teamed up with our specialists to protect vulnerable road users – detects when cyclists have had an incident and sends an alert to an emergency contact.
Chief operating officer and co-founder James Duffy said: “We often see incidents occurring on Flare due to potholes across the UK and further afield. It’s obviously an issue especially in the winter months when the roads tear up but even more so when they fill with water and are difficult to see.
“We launched a feature in January 2022 called Hazards, which is a reporting system for cyclists and other road users to simply flag any issues on the roads such as potholes, ice, traffic, severe weather and more. This reporting system is live and any other Flare user who is approaching the same location will be pre-warned there is a hazard up ahead.
“So far, user feedback has been brilliant and we are excited to see the affects Hazards has on rider safety. Cycling has always been a community-based sport, and easy to use community-led features like this will enable everyone to help each other out on the roads.”
As the national charity for road crash victims, RoadPeace is only too aware of the adverse and unnecessary impact that the UK’s pothole problem continues to have on road users.
CEO Nick Simmons said: “Our helpline and peer to peer services support victims facing the devastating consequences of road crashes, including coping with the loss of a loved one or life-changing injuries.
“Our members and supporters tell us that pothole-related collisions can impact all modes of transport but that it is often motorcyclists and cyclists who are the most seriously affected.
“The very significant compensation costs incurred by local authorities would not be necessary if roads were maintained and repaired promptly, and this money could be put to better and more effective use if it was spent on road danger reduction awareness, enforcement and working towards the delivery of Vision Zero.”
[i] Lime Solicitors submitted freedom of information requests to all 173 local authorities responsible for repairing roads in England and Wales, of which 157 councils responded. Full responses are available on request.
|How many personal injury claims (PICs) where potholes were listed as the main reason were brought against your local authority in the following years?
|How many PICs where a pothole was listed as the man reason were settled by your local authority in the following years?
|How much money did your local authority pay in personal injury settlements where potholes were listed as the main reason for the claim in the following years?
[ii] Figures taken from Department for Transport’s reported road casualties report, which includes accidents where a police officer attended the scene and in which a contributory factor was reported.