We look at a recent case that has implications for local authorities when it comes to highways planning and defending claims.
Price v Oxfordshire County Council  7 WLUK 167
Jennifer Sore was instructed in 2017 by Oxfordshire County Council to defend a personal injury claim brought by a cyclist who managed to ride his bicycle into a ‘battleship-grey’ signpost that sat in the middle of a shared pedestrian and cycle path. The signpost had been there on a busy road close to the RAF base since 1999 and the Claimant’s own evidence was that he had previously cycled past it ‘multiple times’ without issue because it was on his route home from work at the base.
The trial came before Deputy District Judge Stonham at Oxford County Court, held remotely by video and represented by Counsel, Joshua Hedgman of Farrar’s Building. The Judge found that the signpost was a hazard such that, in his view, it was negligently situated. He found the Claimant two-thirds contributorily negligent and thus awarded the Claimant one-third of the value of his claim in damages.
We asked the DDJ for permission to appeal the finding of primary liability, which was refused at first instance. The request was renewed before Her Honour Judge Clarke, who granted permission and later heard the appeal.
In a reserved Judgment, HHJ Clarke accepted our submissions, allowed the appeal, and set aside the order of the DDJ, awarding costs of the appeal to Oxfordshire. In short:
- 1) Despite both counsel having set out the relevant principles and authorities, the DDJ had failed to properly direct himself on the law as to what in law amounted to a ‘danger’;
- 2) The DDJ had accordingly failed to apply that test and the ‘lack of analysis’ in the Judgment was ‘striking’;
- 3) There was a paucity of reasoning and analysis. The ‘inadequacy of the judgment in the court below’ had put the parties and the Appellate Court in a position in which it was ‘impossible to tell’ whether the DDJ had gone wrong on the law or the facts;
- 4) The DDJ had failed to take into account a number of relevant matters – not least the fact that the signpost had been there without apparent incident since 1999 – despite Counsel having made ‘focussed submissions in oral argument’ on the point before the DDJ.
Such was the inadequacy and paucity of the DDJ’s reasoning, HHJ Clarke remitted the matter for a retrial. The Claimant has subsequently discontinued his claim.
What does this mean for local authorities?
It is a very successful outcome, well received by not just Oxfordshire but our other local authority clients who often have to retrofit cycling schemes into their existing highways networks. The appeal was made by Oxfordshire due to the potential implications of an adverse finding of a ‘danger’ in the context of such an everyday item of street furniture commonly found across the country.
The appellate judgment is available on Westlaw and can be found here.
Contact our experts if you need representation in defending local authorities.
The signpost that was involved in the claim against Oxfordshire County Council.
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