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York cyclist wins £7k damages from council after pothole fall

Court of Appeal judge says city council failed to inspec road at adequate intervals

A hairdresser from York has won more than £7,000 in damages nearly five years after a pothole caused her to crash her bike, leaving her jaw fractured in two places, following a long-running legal battle that ended up in the Court of Appeal in London.

Lauren Wilkinson was aged 17 in May 2006 when the accident took place, reports the York Press, and sued City of York Council as the relevant highway authority, alleging that it had been negligent on failing to maintain the road properly.

In 2009, Ms Wilkinson won her case at York County Court and was awarded £7,360 in damages due to the council failing to inspect the road regularly enough, although the district judge found that she was 50% to blame for the accident as a result of not keeping an adequate lookout.

The council appealed that decision, and the decision was overturned at Leeds Crown Court in February 2010, after which Miss Wilkinson took her case to the Court of Appeal, which ruled on the case yesterday.

Announcing the decision he had reached along with colleagues Lord Justice Chadwick and Lord Justice Wilson, Lord Justice Toulson stated that while the cyclist had recovered well from here injuries, she was traumatised at the time.

He added that when Miss Wilkinson and her boyfriend examined the pothole after her fall, they discovered that it had a depth of four centimetres and measured almost 30 centimetres across.

Allowing the cyclist’s appeal, Lord Justice Toulson said: “The obligation to maintain the highway is a fundamental obligation of very long standing.”

He added that the circuit judge had been incorrect to “interfere” with the district judge’s decision, which had been based on factual findings after considering the evidence.

That included finding that the City of York Council should have inspected Whitby Drive, where the accident took place, at intervals of six months at most, and possibly three months.

Lord Justice Toulson, allowing Miss Wilkinson’s claim for the £7,360 damages, added: “This was a road which served a broader population. The district judge was fully entitled to conclude that it was the sort of road for which an inspection once a year was inadequate.”

Away from its legal tribulations, City of York Council is asking residents for their feedback regarding sustainable travel, which Cycling City York and other organisations that work alongside it will use to inform decisions on future initiatives.

Graham Titchener, programme manager for Cycling City York, was quoted in the York Press as saying: “We’re looking to the future and thinking about how we can continue to promote and encourage sustainable travel, not just cycling.

“To do this, we want to find out about any improvements that people would like to see, or support they may need, to ensure that we continue to build on what has been achieved so far.”

The survey will be online at the City of York Council website from next Monday as well as at the Cycling City York website and hard copies will also be available from local libraries and learning centres ad council reception at The Guildhall.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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hairyairey | 13 years ago

Karbon Kev (cool name, although we're all carbon based anyway, unless you mean your bike) - it's a slow process five years is quick delaying tactics abound. I can't see how you can be 50% to blame for hitting a foot wide pothole when a lot of cycle lanes are only two foot wide and one foot is taken up with drains! Anyone who rides a bike knows that swerving into the traffic coming past is never a good idea because they never give you the space of a small car that they are supposed to.

This must have cost the council a fortune to defend, money better spent on repairing the roads.

Karbon Kev | 13 years ago

5 years after falling off due to a pothole? Why on earth has it taken so long?

antonio | 13 years ago

'fifty % to blame' MMM has a motorist had the same judgement when claiming for repairs due to pot hole damage, ie not seeing the pothle in the first place.

OldRidgeback | 13 years ago

Interesting case and one that should concern other UK local authorities. Perhaps some will consider using more cost effective methods of repairing roads that provide longer term solutions rather than the practice of accepting the cheapest tender and, inevitably, the lowest quality work. A busy road close to my home was entirely resurfaced 18 months ago. After two hard winters it looks as if it was last resurfaced 10 years ago. The reason for this rapid failure and need for further patching is that the work was carried out quickly and cheaply in the first place, using inadequate quality control. It's a hazard now for cyclists and motorcyclists in particular due to the large potholes that have appeared and as a busy road carrying large volumes of car, bus and truck traffic, it's just going to get worse.

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