Potholes - Your Rights and Responsibilities

Potholes peppering the UK's roads have been increasingly menacing drivers as the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) reports that councils will be expected to fill in at least two million potholes in the current financial year (2023/24). Despite the government pledging another £8.3 billion to cover an estimated 5,000 miles of road repairs up until 2034, the UK's roads are still plagued by lumps and bumps.

If you find your local roads becoming increasingly uneven and dangerous or have experienced damage to your vehicle from a pothole, you might be able to claim for damage from the authority legally responsible for maintaining this stretch of road.

But who is legally responsible for potholes getting repaired and how can you go about reporting potholes and claiming compensation? Read on to find out more about your legal rights, what evidence you might need to provide and how you can go about claiming compensation for any damage. 

Why are potholes dangerous?

Potholes are so much more than just a minor annoyance. They can cause serious damage to vehicles and even increase the risk of accidents for road users. When drivers hit a pothole, they might not react instantly and lose control of their car. Pedestrians accidentally walking into a pothole might trip, fall, and sustain injuries.

Potholes can be dangerous, particularly for cyclists and motorcyclists, and should be addressed immediately once spotted. It's safe to say that responses to road repairs are not always the fastest but there are steps road users and pedestrians can take to help report and fix these pesky potholes.

What does the UK law say about potholes?

In the UK, we have a law specifically covering potholes (no pun intended) and other issues on road maintenance. Section 58 of the Highways Act of 1980 describes the legal responsibilities of road owners to ensure that the roads under their authority are safe for drivers, pedestrians, and other road users to avoid untoward incidents such as injury or damage to property. The road owners are usually the local councils and highway agencies referred to as the “Authorities.” 

Can I file a claim if a pothole caused damage to my car?

The Authorities are required to have a working system that ensures regular inspection of roads and a swift response to any repair necessary. If a pothole causes damage to a vehicle, for example, the owner may file a claim with the Authority in charge of maintaining the stretch of road where the accident occurred (most likely National Highways or a local council).

However, the law also provides a statutory defence for the Authorities. This defence states that if the Authorities have taken reasonable measures to address the potholes, the claim may be rejected. The car owner would need to prove that the Authorities have not followed the standard system for road maintenance. For example, local councils need to adhere to a set of guidelines to keep highways well-maintained. 

What do I do before filing a claim for compensation?

To be successful with a claim, you need to have proof that the Authorities did not take action and address the potholes in a timely manner. You may start by (if it's safe to do so) taking photos of the pothole so that its location on the road may be determined. For example, is the pothole around the edge of the road or towards the centre? How far away from the pavement, drains or road marking was the pothole? All of this will help build a picture for the person assessing your claim.

The location of the pothole and road must also be specified. You can do this by taking photos of the pothole with landmarks in the background (a shop or road sign) to help pinpoint the exact spot. You can always use Google Earth or Maps for this step to make things a little simpler.

You also need to measure the width and depth of the pothole. Remember to take photos of the damage to your car as well. When arranging for repair work on your car, shop around first and get quotes from service providers. You will need the quotes when you claim compensation for the damage to the car. 

Can the Authorities refuse my claim for compensation?

Yes. The Authorities may refuse your claim, so you need to be prepared and have all the pieces of evidence you can use to argue your case. To start, file your claim to the relevant highway agency or local council by sending a detailed letter, along with your pieces of evidence, quotes for repair work, and an invoice to rectify the damage to your vehicle.

If the road owners had knowledge of the potholes but did not take the necessary steps to address them, they are required to accept your claim. However, if they did not know about it, they may not be held liable. Therefore, it is important to have a strong bank of evidence so you can argue that the Authorities failed to repair the road and keep it safe for road users.

What to do if my claim for compensation is rejected?

You have the right to make an appeal if your claim is rejected. You may write back to the highway authority or local council and ask for the details of the area’s road inspection policy. This is a crucial step to determine if you should take legal action or not. Road owners are required to have a system to inspect roads regularly and make repairs whenever necessary.

This system outlines the frequency of road inspections, the timeframe for repairs, and even what size a pothole has to be before road repairs take place. Once you have this information, you can take the next step of scrutinising whether this system was followed correctly to help highlight if the Authorities were indeed negligent in their responsibility to ensure road maintenance and safety. 

Is it worth taking legal action over pothole damage?

If you think you have sufficient proof against the road owner, you may go to a local solicitor who can handle the claim on your behalf and take legal steps against the Authorities. You can also make a claim yourself through the Small Claims Court, which is easy to do online these days. Bear in mind, though, that this will cost money, and depending on the extent of damage to your car, it might not even be worth it.

If this route doesn't seem like it's worth your time or money it could be worth exploring submitting a claim for the damages with your car insurance provider to help cover the cost of any repairs. It's worth noting that this will require evidence to be provided and will affect your insurance premium if you decide to log a claim.