Like most law firms we had a number of enquiries from members of the public who have been injured as a result of falling on snowy and icy roads, paths and pavements during the recent period of inclement weather. Slip and trip accidents increase during the autumn and winter seasons for a number of reasons; there is less daylight, more leaves fall onto paths and become wet and slippery and cold weather spells cause ice and snow to build up on roads, paths and pavements.
What are the duties of local authorities in these circumstances?
Shortly following the decision made in Goodes the law was amended by the addition of a new piece of legislation. This legislation effectively reversed the decision made in Goodes insofar as a local authority now does in fact have a duty “to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice”.
How could such a claim be brought against a local authority?
Previously, arguments relating to a local authority’s resource or budgetary constraints have more often than not been dismissed when assessing whether a local authority has acted “reasonably” in clearing a route of snow and ice. The courts have generally been very reluctant to commence a detailed review a local authority’s financial resources or priorities, deciding that these are matters for Parliament to decide, not the courts.
There is now an argument that the new legislation opens up the possibility that a local authority’s capability based on its resources or budget can be raised in court in order to show that it has not acted reasonably. However, before every injured party of a trip and slip on snow or ice rushes to the telephone to contact their local solicitor, it should be noted that before a claim brought under the new legislation is successful, there are many difficulties that must be overcome.
It was near on impossible to watch the news during the months of December and January without hearing reports of local authorities up and down the country being forced to treat only arterial routes due to ever exhausting supplies of grit. In the case of McDonald v Leicester City Council it was shown that the concept of reasonable practicability can encompass policy considerations of resources and priorities of a local authority. However, the courts are likely to find in favour of such arguments from a local authority and establish that they did in fact act ‘reasonably practicably’ under the circumstances, thus extinguishing a claim brought by an injured party.
Many aspects of the recent changes in the law are yet to be tested before the courts and given the broadening of a local authority’s duties the ensure safe that passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice, each case should certainly be viewed on a individual basis.
We welcome comments and views on the recent changes, in particular whether you feel that the duties of local authorities are adequate enough to protect the public.