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Judge says rider bears no responsibility for crash that damaged his hearing

A cyclist who sued Hertfordshire County Council after he was seriously injured when he hit a pothole has been awarded nearly £70,000 in compensation at the High Court following a judgment that his solicitor said might “open the floodgates” to other claimants.

Alan Curtis, aged 56, sued the council as a result of the incident in Rickmansworth in October 2009 that left him with impaired hearing and suffering from short-term memory loss, reports the London Evening Standard’s Ross Lydall.

He also fractured his skull, suffering brain injuries, and broke his arm in the crash, which happened while he was out training ahead of a charity ride.

The newspaper says that Mr Curtis, from Bushey, insists that “I never came into this for the money,” and that the court was told that he had lost a £96,000 a year position as a fundraising director with a charity, taking a job that paid £30,000 less.

Most of the £69,425 award will go towards his medical bills, with £20,000 relating to possible unemployment should he be required to give up his current job and seek a new one.

Mr Curtis was originally seeking between £50,000 and £100,000 in compensation for the crash that left him with impaired hearing and forced him to take seven weeks off work to recuperate.

Judge David Pittaway said that the crash had been a result of either Mr Curtis’ wheel getting caught in a linear pothole or his being forced to swerve to try and avoid it.

“It would not be appropriate for me to conclude that he bears any responsibility for the accident,” the judge said.

“The permanent nature of both the cognitive defects and the nature of his hearing loss are significant disadvantages and make him vulnerable to further periods of unemployment.”

Mr Curtis said he was pleased with the result. “I didn’t expect to win a life-changing amount,” he said. “I just felt that someone ought to be held to account. In that sense, justice has been done.”

His solicitor, Kevin O’Sullivan, said the decision was “great news for cyclists.

He said: “This kind of case shows what a pothole can do. The injuries sustained by Alan were devastating.

“Hertfordshire could have resolved this case a lot sooner. We didn’t need to come all the way to court. They chose to take that course.

“I’m delighted for my client. He is a lovely man who has sustained really nasty, life-changing injuries."

In an email to road.cc he added: "The main message from this case for local authorities is that they don’t simply need to inspect the road, they need to make sure they do it properly.The case went in our favour because the judge accepted that when the local auth inspected the road 6 months before Alan’s accident, they did an inadequate job and the defect that caused Alan to come off was there to be seen when they inspected and they should have spotted it and repaired it.

"I’d hope this case will remind authorities that cyclists are much more vulnerable to a pothole than any motorist and they should be particularly thinking of cyclists’ vulnerability when they inspect."

A spokesman for Hertfordshire County Council said that Mr Curtis’ accident was “regrettable” but the council was disappointed with the judgement.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

16 comments

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NeilXDavis [124 posts] 3 years ago
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The council was disappointed with the judgement!?!?

Why the hell cant they just say sorry and commit to making an effort to ensure this doesn't happen again! - makes me soo angry it like they just don't give a flying f**k about it hence dragging it all the way to court FFS...

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MKultra [393 posts] 3 years ago
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Standard lefty council official position is to vilify anyone brave enough to point out the council is in the wrong, they see this as a greater crime than the neglect they are guilty of in the first place. They will spend more money on legal battles and paying all the admin and legal staff involved at their end for arguing the toss over it than it would take to fix all the pot holes. Fixing the potholes would mean work going to labourers and contractors rather than to middle class employees of the council who work in an office. It's the age old protection racket, if they are not getting their cut for simply existing and being members of the party then they will ensure nothing will get done and public money will be wasted, it's simple blackmail based on a culture of non co-operation.

If they don't want to see the floodgates opened for further claims then maybe they should stop using service providers for infrastructure and just pay the council lads to go out and fix the potholes, cheaper all round.

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farrell [1946 posts] 3 years ago
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So you think they are left wing and that's why they want to protect jobs for older-middle class people?

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Wookie [241 posts] 3 years ago
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MKultra wrote:

Standard lefty council official

I think you may be wrong?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hertfordshire_County_Council_elections

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MKultra [393 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
farrell wrote:

So you think they are left wing and that's why they want to protect jobs for older-middle class people?

Most lefties these days are middle class, middle aged and not badly off with the exception of uni kids who are stupid enough to get mixed up with the SWP who strangely these days seem to be fairly well off students and not actual "workers" or even the children of workers , labour abandoned the working classes years ago as they do not vote. Public sector unions are embedded in the Labour party, the standard position councils adopt is to never admit wrong doing as that makes the council look bad, and by extension the union and Labour. Even a Tory controlled council is still stuck with the fact that Labour still controls the workforce and working practices of any local authority.

Tory/Labour...they are all the same, they all suck up to the people who vote for them, with Labour it's a policy of protectionism in relation to earnings and jobs for the liberal left leaning middle classes, with the Tory government it's pandering to the nimbyism and xenophobia of the middle class Tory voter.

I am terribly sorry if none of the above conforms with the smug pedantry you were about to engage in.

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Argos74 [436 posts] 3 years ago
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"Hertfordshire Council election, 2013 - Conservative 46, Liberal Democrat 16, Labour 15"

Ye Gods. Up until last year, they had a BNP councillor. So I suppose one could say they're becoming more left wing...

Kudos and cake to Mr Curtis and his legal team. Be interesting to see what this puts down in terms of case law.

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oozaveared [934 posts] 3 years ago
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MKultra wrote:

Standard lefty council official position is to vilify anyone brave enough to point out the council is in the wrong, they see this as a greater crime than the neglect they are guilty of in the first place. They will spend more money on legal battles and paying all the admin and legal staff involved at their end for arguing the toss over it than it would take to fix all the pot holes. Fixing the potholes would mean work going to labourers and contractors rather than to middle class employees of the council who work in an office. It's the age old protection racket, if they are not getting their cut for simply existing and being members of the party then they will ensure nothing will get done and public money will be wasted, it's simple blackmail based on a culture of non co-operation.

If they don't want to see the floodgates opened for further claims then maybe they should stop using service providers for infrastructure and just pay the council lads to go out and fix the potholes, cheaper all round.

I hate to tell you but it is standard operting procedure to deny claims. The council will have insurance for legal liability. Their legal people will demand they contest because it raises the bar for other claimants. They don't want to be seen as a soft touch that just pays up (or bang goes their insurance premiums).

It's roughly the same principle as putting up a fight in the playground if someone demands your dinner money. If you just hand it over then it will happen again tomorrow and lots of other people will join in as well.

There are some employers that made a "sensible£ decision to settle employment disputes with compromise agreements. They ended up having loads more disputes and loads more claims as a result. Once you get a reputation for rolling over and paying compo (because it's reasonable) then you become a target.

Lawyers know this. Insurance companies know this. Lefty council or righty free market business isn't the point.

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goggy [155 posts] 3 years ago
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I got paid out by ETA cycle Insurance for a new Dura Ace C35 wheel @ £600 last month. ETA is chasing Croydon Council in London for reimbursement, and asked me if I could take a photo of the pothole (which I thought was amusing - wouldn't any photo do?)

Needless to say, I spent two hours at the scene on a Sunday honing my photographing skills in the face of traffic chaos to get them their 12 photos in minute detail, as well as my Garmin FIT files and video footage in glorious 1080p!

 21

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mrmo [2093 posts] 3 years ago
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Can anyone answer the following, had the road been inspected and the council found negligent for not fixing a known fault? Did this defect meet the councils own criteria? Was the inspection regime deemed at fault, not rigorous enough? Has the judge simply said the crash is because the road is not safe, and the council is duty bound to ensure the road is safe with no excuse?

Important details because does this override section 58? the standard, we came, we saw and the hole wasn't there so not our fault and we won't pay out.

I guess we need a council appeal to push this though, high court is one thing, appeals court I believe is where precedent is set.

Personally I know of plenty of linear holes that fail to meet criteria so don't get fixed but are dangerous.

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oozaveared [934 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
MKultra wrote:
farrell wrote:

So you think they are left wing and that's why they want to protect jobs for older-middle class people?

Most lefties these days are middle class, middle aged and not badly off with the exception of uni kids who are stupid enough to get mixed up with the SWP who strangely these days seem to be fairly well off students and not actual "workers" or even the children of workers , labour abandoned the working classes years ago as they do not vote. Public sector unions are embedded in the Labour party, the standard position councils adopt is to never admit wrong doing as that makes the council look bad, and by extension the union and Labour. Even a Tory controlled council is still stuck with the fact that Labour still controls the workforce and working practices of any local authority.

Tory/Labour...they are all the same, they all suck up to the people who vote for them, with Labour it's a policy of protectionism in relation to earnings and jobs for the liberal left leaning middle classes, with the Tory government it's pandering to the nimbyism and xenophobia of the middle class Tory voter.

I am terribly sorry if none of the above conforms with the smug pedantry you were about to engage in.

Actually they almost certainly have an in-house legal team. The default position for counsel is to dispute liability. Accepting liability for this one pothole is a can of worms. There isn't just one pothole out there, there are loads. The council has a statutory duty to keep the roads in good repair ie they must make reasonable effort to do so. Admitting liability is an admission of failure in statutory duty. It would be like putting up a neon sign over the Town Hall inviting Injury Lawyers 4 U et al to come and get some free money because they already admitted they haven't done their job properly leaving the claims lawyers nothing to prove.

Some of the best legal advice regarding claims comes via a poem.

IT IS always a temptation to an armed and agile nation (That's injury lawyers 4 U)
To call upon a neighbour ( that the council in this case) and to say: –
"We invaded you last night – we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away."

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you've only to pay 'em the Dane-geld
And then you'll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: –
"Though we know we should defeat you,
we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: --

"We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!"

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levermonkey [681 posts] 3 years ago
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I don't know whether to be elated or saddened by this judgement.

Elated that a legal precedent has been set that Councils ARE statutorily responsible for the upkeep of the roads under their control.

Saddened because of the personal cost to Mr Alan Curtis.

I wish him all the best for the future and hope that his condition continues to improve. Thank you on behalf of myself and all other cyclists.

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kitkat [456 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm sure he would give away double the money if he could get his pre-crash health back

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oozaveared [934 posts] 3 years ago
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levermonkey wrote:

I don't know whether to be elated or saddened by this judgement.

Elated that a legal precedent has been set that Councils ARE statutorily responsible for the upkeep of the roads under their control.

Saddened because of the personal cost to Mr Alan Curtis.

I wish him all the best for the future and hope that his condition continues to improve. Thank you on behalf of myself and all other cyclists.

There is no precedent. Councils have alsways been statutorily responsible for the upkeep of the road. In practice that means they need to make a proper effort to make the road safe.

The finding in this judgement is not a precedent. It's a simple finding that they did not do enough to discharge their duty of care.

In the real world, it's not enough for there to be a pothole in the road. It would need to be shown that not only was there a pothole, but the pothole was in a place and of a size that was capable of being a danger, that the council knew or should have known (ie it had been there for a while) and had not done anything proportionate to the danger in discharging their statutory duty.

This case was a dispute about these facts. The council's claim was that this pothole a linear crack did not pose a serious danger because it was avoidable. I am going to add that this was because they had in their mind the effect on a car. ie that it would not effect a car. if they did think about cyclists (big IF) then they may have judged that a cyclist could easily have avoided it.

So what the case changes is case law. So, now a council can't say that a linear pot hole isn't a danger. There is case law, of which their highways department should be aware, that it is. Linear potholes just went up some places on the list of priorities that council has a duty of care to fix.

Avatar
farrell [1946 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
MKultra wrote:
farrell wrote:

So you think they are left wing and that's why they want to protect jobs for older-middle class people?

Most lefties these days are middle class, middle aged and not badly off with the exception of uni kids who are stupid enough to get mixed up with the SWP who strangely these days seem to be fairly well off students and not actual "workers" or even the children of workers , labour abandoned the working classes years ago as they do not vote. Public sector unions are embedded in the Labour party, the standard position councils adopt is to never admit wrong doing as that makes the council look bad, and by extension the union and Labour. Even a Tory controlled council is still stuck with the fact that Labour still controls the workforce and working practices of any local authority.

Tory/Labour...they are all the same, they all suck up to the people who vote for them, with Labour it's a policy of protectionism in relation to earnings and jobs for the liberal left leaning middle classes, with the Tory government it's pandering to the nimbyism and xenophobia of the middle class Tory voter.

I am terribly sorry if none of the above conforms with the smug pedantry you were about to engage in.

There was no smug pedantry, or at least not from me. I just thought you appeared confused and ranty. The above post has since confirmed that.

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levermonkey [681 posts] 3 years ago
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Isn't Case Law all precedents?  39

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Dreamf0x [11 posts] 3 years ago
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Looking at the pictures on the BBC I imagine it was deemed not to meet the criteria for an urgent repair and was defended under Section 41 of the Highways Act. As the google image showed it as a similar size previously and if it was found to be in breach of Section 41 now it would have been the same when the google image was taken and therefore would fail under Section 58 also.