Lay witness views dismissed as judge backs Council in manhole trip case

The claimant brought a claim for damages in respect of an injury to her ankle as a result of a trip on the edge of a manhole cover.

At first instance, the judges finding of fact was that the difference in height levels between the cover and the surrounding pavement was at least 15 mm. He found in favour of the claimant and awarded damages of 5000 plus costs to be assessed. The highway authority appealed this decision.

On appeal, Mr Justice Eady decided that the trail judge had erred in taking into account the views of lay witnesses in determining the issue of danger. These were irrelevant considerations and should not have been given any weight in the judgement. Mr Justice Eady went on to describe the protrusion as unremarkable and took the view that a reasonable person would not regard it as presenting a real source of danger. He allowed the appeal.

An interesting point for Insurers to note is that within this judgement, Mr Justice Eady referred specifically to the need to take account of financial constraints on local authorities in deciding whether or not it is reasonable for them to intervene and repair a defect in the highway.