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Council liable as woman drives off road into tree

15 February 2010

West Sussex Council County was liable for a woman’s injuries after she drove into a tree, even though she admitted driving too fast on an icy road. The Court of Appeal ruled that the council had failed to maintain the grass verge properly.

Giving judgment in West Sussex County Council v Russell [2010] EWCA Civ 71, Lord Justice Wilson said the woman suffered “serious neurological and orthopaedic injuries” in the crash.

Sarah Russell was driving her teenaged son to school at Lancing College, near Brighton, from the Surrey village of Ockley. He escaped with minor injuries.

Wilson LJ said the judge at first instance found that Russell was driving at about 45mph, which she accepted was too fast, given that there was a hoar frost.

He said the judge also found that at the time of the crash the temperature was around zero and the car “probably skidded on black ice”.

He went on: “She skidded somewhat to her left and her nearside front wheel – or both her nearside wheels – left the carriageway and (so the judge found) dropped down on to the edge of the verge, upon which it – or they – momentarily bumped along.”

Wilson LJ said that at this point the “drop-off” between the carriageway and the verge was “almost six inches”.

He said that to regain the carriageway, Russell had to “steer violently” towards her right, onto the wrong side of the road, before she “overcompensated and steered the car sharply to her left, off the road, across the verge and, tragically, into a tree”.

Within a few weeks, the council raised the level of the verge to roughly the same level as the carriageway and put marker posts there to prevent anglers damaging the verge by parking.

However, the judge at first instance held that the council was in breach of its obligation under section 41(1) of the Highways Act to maintain the highway properly.

Lord Justice Wilson agreed and said that he could not fault the judge’s decision to reduce the compensation award by 50 per cent for Russell’s contributory negligence.

He added that decisions of this kind were “extremely fact sensitive”. Lady Justice Arden and Mr Justice Henderson agreed that the council’s appeal should be dismissed.

Categorised in:

Discrimination Road traffic Landlord & Tenant Local government