LEGAL CORNER: Watch your step — don’t let the new rules trip you up

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It is well known that, in these days of austerity, local authorities have suffered from swingeing cuts in government grants and are having to make significant savings in many areas.

Judges are well aware of this situation and public policy appears to be playing an increasing part in court decisions, especially when dealing with local authorities.

Tripping on a damaged pavement does not provide an automatic right to compensation. Pavements are considered to be part of the highway, and the duty of the local authority under the Highways Act 1980 is to maintain the highway to a reasonable standard. Recently the ‘reasonable standard’ for a paving stone to be considered a tripping hazard has been redefined - it must now be protruding at least two inches, even in high traffic areas.

Section 58 of the Highways Act provides a statutory defence allowing the local council or the highways agency to defend claims on the basis that reasonable measures have been taken to ensure problems presented by broken or lifted paving slabs are promptly identified and subsequently swiftly resolved.

So if the council can provide evidence of appropriate action following a complaint or damage notification from a member of the public, a reasonable maintenance inspection procedure, and a proportionate repair strategy, then any damages claim is unlikely to succeed.

However, if the problem involves a ‘trap’ such as a see-sawing paving slab, the council’s position may be less secure and the George Ide team offers clients an investigative service to examine the merits of their individual cases and assess the likelihood of making a successful claim.

Regarding private property, the Occupiers’ Liability Act (1957) requires the occupier to protect visitors whilst on their property. An occupier of land does not have the benefit of the statutory defence that is enjoyed by the highway authorities, and George Ide’s legal experts have succeeded in making private land claims in situations that would not have led to damages being recoverable had they occurred on a public highway.

Although in the past, judges have (not unreasonably) commented that the public cannot expect footpaths to be maintained to the same high quality as bowling greens, serious - sometimes life-changing - injuries do occur, often to vulnerable members of the public. So we would encourage anyone who spots a potential hazard to notify their local authority or Highways England as soon as possible, for everyone’s benefit.

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Garry Sleet

Personal injury department

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George Ide, LLP

Solicitors of Chichester and Bognor Regis