As someone who regularly commutes to work by bike, I am only too well aware of the dangers to cyclists caused by poorly maintained road surfaces. I was therefore saddened but not surprised to hear of the injuries suffered by Mr Alan Curtis, who suffered a severe head injury and a broken arm when he was thrown from his bike after it hit a pothole in the road.
Mr Curtis, who worked as a charity fundraising director, was training for a charity bike ride with two friends when he was injured. He was wearing a helmet but has no memory of the accident, which left him unconscious and with residual hearing and memory problems. He had to change jobs as a result of his injuries.
The pothole was described as a long, straight line defect in the road, 40mm deep, next to the centre of the carriageway.
Mr Curtis sued Hertfordshire County Council for failing to fix the pothole, which he said was a real source of danger. The Council’s road inspector, who had inspected the road six months previously, accepted that, had he seen the pothole, he would have recorded it as a category one defect, which would require repair within 7 days. He tried to argue however, that, as the pothole was on the offside of his vehicle, it would not have been visible to him and, as a straight line defect, would have been less obvious than a depression in the carriageway.
The Council refused to accept liability for Mr Curtis’ injuries and the case went to court. The judge heard that Mr Curtis had been doing about 18-20mph when he crashed - either as a result of his wheel being caught in the pothole or him being forced to swerve suddenly in an attempt to avoid it.
Happily for Mr Curtis, and potentially for other cyclists who suffer similar accidents, the judge rejected the Council’s arguments and ruled that the pothole should have been seen, logged as a category one defect and repaired. He also refused to blame Mr Curtis at all for the accident, rejecting the Council’s claim that Mr Curtis should have seen the pothole earlier and taken avoiding action.
I hope this judgement will encourage other Councils to ensure that roads are maintained so that they are not dangerous for cyclists, so that others can be spared the type of unfortunate but entirely preventable accident that befell Mr Curtis.