I was riding my bike down a country lane when I came off on what I think was black ice
on the road, causing me to fracture my shoulder. I want to sue the council for not gritting the road, but am having trouble finding a solicitor willing to take on my case even though I have a witness who agrees that black ice was the cause. What can I do?
Gavin – by email
The first thing to do is establish as a matter of fact whether or not black ice caused the crash rather than something else. I say this because you say you think it was black ice and the witness agrees, hinting there may be others who disagree?
Even if you can establish this, the fact that the council did not grit the road alone does not necessarily mean that they are liable to compensate you for your injuries.
In order to successfully claim against the council you would need to establish that the failure to grit meant that they did not comply with their obligations under the Highways Act 1980 which requires that they ‘ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice’.
In order to do this you would need to either prove that the council’s failure to grit was because their winter service code was not reasonable, or if it was reasonable, that it was not implemented correctly. If the Council can establish that their code was reasonable and was implemented correctly then your claim will fail.
Claims for ice on roads can be difficult to bring successfully because the Courts take multiple factors into account such as the council’s available resources, weighing the cost of gritting against the risk to road users and prioritising gritting certain areas (e.g. main roads, roads to hospitals and schools). This means, for example, that it might have been reasonable for the council not to grit the road where you had the accident because it would cost too much, and that they chose to prioritise other areas instead.
I would recommend writing to the relevant council asking them for a copy of their winter service code, inspection and maintenance records and any other risk assessments. Then contact a solicitor with the evidence if you cannot find one to do these preliminary investigations on your behalf.