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Road accidents on ice – local authority liability

Accidents on ice – Highways / Council liability

If you have had an ice related accident on the public highway: road, pavement or council maintained land, and believe that the local council / authority failed to grit or otherwise make the area safe, you may consider that a compensation claim would be appropriate.


Unfortunately such claims are very difficult indeed to bring and it is important that you understand the law before you embark on any legal enquiries.


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Slipping On Ice Enquiry

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We can give free claims advice when you have had a slip on ice on a path or highway. Get a free no obligation opinion on your injury compensation case!

Here we discuss slipping accidents occurring on council land in icy or wintry weather:

Under s41a of the Highways Act 1980,

In particular, a highway authority are under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice

This is not an absolute duty and what is deemed to be reasonably practicable is with a question of fact. Usual subjects to consider would be:

  • The character of the highway in question
  • The types of traffic that may use it
  • Whether it would be unreasonable for the Council to not do anything

On a rural road used mainly by tractors it would not be reasonable for the Council to grit. However, on a busy motorway it would be reasonable to grit unless the weather conditions were extreme.

It must be noted though that the Council does not have to grit all of the highways in their area. Nor do they have to have someone on duty all the time to try and clear the snow and ice.

The council cannot be held responsible for ice accidents that occur at places of work or public places (such as: shopping areas, hospitals, etc). These will be down to the business/property owners to make reasonably safe.

R Pace v Swansea City Council [2007].

This was a claim arising from a Road Traffic Accident in 2004. The Claimant claimed that the accident happened as the highway was covered in ice and the Council should have ensured that it was free of ice.

The Courts considered that it was a balancing act between what is reasonable and what the available finances are. They felt that the Council would have to plan for such conditions in accordance with best practice but within manageable and sustainable constraints. They felt that it would be impossible for a Council to eliminate the risk of ice and snow forming on all roads.

See also Goodes v East Sussex County Council [2000] ALL ER 603.

In this case Lord Hoffman quoted Lord Denning in the previous leading case of Haydon v Kent County Council.

“If the highway authority were bound to clear all those of snow and ice, whenever they became slippery or dangerous, they would require an army of men with modern machines and tools stationed at innumerable posts and moving forward in formation whenever there was a severe frost”.

Best practice guidelines are included in a Code prepared by the Department of Transport designed to help local authorities with their policies. However, each Council will have their own policy based on the Code.

Other Ice related accidents:

More links: British safety websiteWinter footwear safetyCar park ice accidents businesses


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