Tripping Accidents

by Dean Talbot

Many accident claims will result from people tripping or slipping either on the pavement, in the road, or even on private premises. There are two main areas of law which govern these types of accidents. The first is the Highways Act 1980, and the second is the Occupiers Liability Act 1957.

The Highways Act governs accidents which happen on roads adopted by a local authority. In other words, any accident claim which results from a trip or a slip on a road which is maintainable by a local council, will be covered by this act. The councilís duty to the pedestrian is to adopt and maintain a reasonable system of inspection and repair. To meet their obligation under the act each council has to devise a policy for inspection and maintenance which, in the eyes of the law would be reasonable. In other words for an "A" road in a busy residential area, the local authority would be expected to inspect the road (and repair if necessary) more often that they would a country road in the same council area, for the simple reason that the "A" road carries more traffic, and will therefore suffer more wear and tear. Most pedestrian accident claims under the Highways Act result from trips in pot holes or broken or cracked paving. In order to succeed under the Highways Act, the defect which caused the trip needs to be an "actionable hazard". This means that it has to be serious enough to warrant repair. The courts do not expect councils to keep their roads and pavements blemish free, but they do expect them to deal with reasonably serious problems as soon as possible. In other words, a 3 inch deep pot hole in the middle of a pavement in a busy shopping precinct would be an actionable hazard. On the other hand a Ĺ inch raised kerb at the edge of a pavement would not. Claims resulting from such accidents will succeed or fail on their own facts and in particular on whether they meet the above thresholds. Some public roads are not maintainable at public expense, because they are not adopted and therefore they do not fall under the Highways Act. Therefore there is no duty for the local authority to inspect and maintain and even though the council may own the road, it will not be liable unless evidence can be obtained that the defect was reported to them before the accident and they did nothing to repair it. A typical example would be a public right of way.

Accident claims resulting from slips and trips on private land are normally governed by the Occupiers Liability Act 1957. This provides that the occupier of the land must take reasonable care for the safety of all lawful visitors. Typical situations are shopping precincts, supermarkets, car parks and even private houses. Unlike the Highways Act obligation on councils there is no general obligation to inspect and maintain, but if you can prove that the occupier of the land knew, or should have known about the problem before the accident occurred, then your accident claim should succeed. The Occupiers Liability Act (1957) does not apply to unlawful visitors, or trespassers, and in fact there is a separate act which provides a more restricted duty to trespassers.

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