Councils across England and Wales have paid out more than £32million in compensation for injuries caused by potholes over the past five years.
Some 5,596 personal injury claims were settled by local authorities across England and Wales between 2017 and 2021.
Lancashire paid out more than any other town hall, generating a massive bill worth more than £11m.
They were followed by Staffordshire, Northumberland, Derbyshire and Manchester City Council, which forked out a further £5m between them.
Despite the huge figures, however, data also shows that only one in four of the personal injury claims arising from potholes were settled by councils.
Peter Jones is a personal injury legal director and cycling claims specialist at Lime Solicitors, which collected the stats.
He 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, 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.
Councils across England and Wales have paid out more than £32million in compensation for injuries caused by potholes over the past five years
Mr Jones 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.
This includes taking 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, bosses say.
Claimants should also get the details of witnesses who saw the incident as they will be able to confirm which pothole was hit and on what date and time.
Experts also suggest speaking to neighbours who may be able to reveal how long it has been there for, or even scanning Google Earth, which has imagery going back years.
Mr Jones added: ‘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.’
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