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A Bikers Nightmare... Diesel Spills, potholes and road defects

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Okay my fellow bikers, now listen up here whilst we once again tackle the duties of care owed by local authorities who couldn’t repair their way out of a brown paper bag. Here we discuss what you can do if you are injured because of slippery roads caused by diesel spillages, potholes or missing manhole covers. My solicitors have dealt with these issues for many years and are well versed in dealing with these hazards and the difficulties you may encounter when negotiating with obstinate local authorities whose duty it is to make sure it doesn’t happen.


The Highways Act of 1980 relates to all roads, pathways, cycle ways and carriageways. For the purposes of this website we intend only to refer to roads that are maintainable at public expense or if you prefer, the roads that they are supposed to maintain from the vast amount of Council Taxes that they seem to waste every year.

So, the word ‘maintain’ conjures up images of wet tar, road rollers and council workmen staring into holes and sipping tea. But maintenance goes further than this. To maintain a road means that the road and its surface must be safe for its intended use. The problem today is that there is no other place to ride your machine when going from A to B unless you spend virtually all of the time on a public road. They are everywhere and we have little choice as motorcyclists other than to use them. So, if we are literally forced to use them, the person responsible for them must ensure that you don’t get injured.

Great theories, but theory is where it all ends. The sad and stark fact is that people are injured every day on the roads, not just from other motorists, but from the state of the roads that have caused the accident.

Motorcycles and scooters are probably the most dangerous machines on the roads today(some may say). Cars can skid, and to a certain extent we can control them. There are rules of ‘turning into skids’ and ‘braking intermittently on snow and ice’ to name just a couple.

But bikers have a different strategy. First they hope that the Council has done their job properly, and secondly if they haven’t, they need to know some good prayers, because that’s all they usually have between themselves and the road surface. Today we have seen an upsurge in the number of Diesel vehicles, due to their economy over petrol vehicles. Accordingly we have seen an increase in the number of Diesel spillages that occur when people don’t screw their fuel tank caps on properly or simply develop fuel leakages. Diesel, unlike petrol, doesn’t evaporate and dry. It is oil and sits happily on road surfaces. It can be seen in multi coloured patches on wet road surfaces, and being oil it floats on the surface wherever water collects. Hence the road surface becomes very slippery and whilst you wouldn’t notice it in a car, a motorbike is a different matter. Councils are under a statutory duty to ensure that this doesn’t happen, but they don’t seem to be very successful. In some cases they seem to be downright dilatory in their attitude.

Likewise potholes are a nuisance to the car driver, but deadly to the motorcyclist. Sometimes it’s not the falling from the motorcycle that causes the injury it is passing vehicles that aren’t able to brake on slippery and uneven surfaces that collide with the rider as he lies in the road.

Another hazard that is probably more dangerous than any pothole or slippery surface is a missing manhole cover; they can be deadly. It is probably too late to re-site them now, but in the past you would have thought that whoever put them in roadways wasn’t thinking straight. You are probably right, but then again we are talking about some Council planners who can’t plan their way out of a paper bag. It is hard to believe that nobody had ever said to them, “What if someone takes the cover off? What will happen?”

With the soaring cost of metal these days, they have become an easy target for people who are reckless enough to risk people’s lives for £2 worth of scrap metal. Whatever you do, don’t ask why they don’t fit locks to them; it’s local Councils, remember?

So in short, the local authority is under a duty of care to ensure that the roads are fit for purpose, and if they aren’t and you are injured, then that’s who you sue.


You should know better than ask that question; of course it’s not as simple as that, and that is why you need the help of a motorcycle solicitors. Nothing is ever as simple as that when dealing with these three major hazards.

Let’s say we are riding along the road when suddenly we slip on an oily patch, hit a pothole or are unfortunate enough to ride straight into an open inspection hatch in the road. The Council will immediately blame the mystery third party who took the manhole cover, or the fictitious wagon that caused the pothole and then leaked diesel onto the road. Like Insurance companies, Councils have endless lists of excuses.

Despite their endless protestations, yes the council is at fault and ultimately responsible, but what if they maintain that they had checked the road earlier in the day and it was free from debris, oil or other hazards?

They will be using that old adage of ‘reasonability’ and a ‘reasonable regime of inspection’.

The law in this country is applied in the same way in many cases, but the outcomes vary. The reason for this is that Judges rule differently. You may find some judges who are sympathetic to us motorcyclists, whilst others are fiercely against anything that frightens horses. In the same way some judges don’t feel the same way about local authorities as our lawyers do, whilst others won’t tolerate their excuses. It’s a lottery when you begin an action, and sometimes there’s no telling which way a judge will decide.


The local authority will maintain they have a proper system of inspection. They may even show records of regular inspection of their system of roads. As an example, say a local authority has fifty miles of roads to inspect. If they only inspect it once every two weeks, because of the limited roads they have to look after, once every two weeks can hardly be deemed reasonable. But if an authority has ten thousand miles of roads to inspect, then once every two weeks may be accepted as being reasonable given the size of the task and of course the nature of the defects.


The answer to this is, yes.

Section 58 of the Highways Act gives them a ‘get out’ if they can prove that they have taken ‘such care as in all the circumstances was required to secure that part of the highway to which the action relates was not dangerous to the traffic’. Therefore, a highway authority needs to take reasonable care of the road.

Of course, they don’t have it all their own way and must argue their point to the satisfaction of the judge if they are to succeed. The Court must look at the following points when reaching a decision:

1. The nature of the road, i.e. is this a main highway (and therefore the traffic that is reasonably expected to use it)

2. The standard of maintenance appropriate for a road of that character and used by that traffic

3. The state of repair in which a reasonable person would have expected to find the highway

4. Whether the highway authority knew or could reasonably have been expected to know the condition of that part of the highway to which the action relates was likely to cause danger to users of the highway, i.e. have pot holes and oil spillages already been reported?

5. Where the highways authority could not have reasonably been expected to repair that part of the highway before the accident occurred, what warning notices of its condition had been displayed.


So as you can see, motorcycle accidents caused by this type of defect can be fraught with danger. Say the wrong thing, at the wrong time to the wrong person and your case can be damaged beyond recovery.

See the section for Motorcycle Accident solicitors

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