0370 270 6000

Devon County Council v Webber, Court of Appeal, 19 April 2002

30 April 2002
The issues

Highways – Obstruction To Highway – Section150(4) Highways Act

The facts

The Defendant’s appealed from the decision of the Judge to the Court of Appeal in this case in which the County Council brought proceedings under Section 150 of the Highways Act 1980.

Under Section 150 the County Council has a duty to remove an obstruction from the highway resulting from an accumulation of snow, or from the falling down of banks on the side of the highway, or “from any other cause” – the latter words to be taken as referring – ejusdem generis – to the previous words i.e. confined to sudden substantial obstructions attributable to natural causes occurring without warning and requiring urgent removal.

Under Section 150 the Highway Authority can take any reasonable steps to warn highway users of the presence of the obstructions and anything removed in carrying out the duty and recover its reasonable expenses from the owner of anything which caused or contributed to the obstruction. The owner can defend those proceedings for recovery of expenses on the basis that they took reasonable care to secure the object that the question did not cause or contribute to the obstruction. The words reasonable steps or reasonable care involve ensuring the obstruction did not arise in the first place – he is not required to prove that he took reasonable steps to secure the removal of the obstruction once it occurred – Williams v Devon County Council 1967).

In May 1999 a violent rainstorm caused a landslip. Soil and rubble was washed on to a road near Higher Radway Farm at Bishopsteignton. The County Council removed the soil and rubble at a cost of £30,000.00. They sued the owners of the land under Section 150 (4). They also sued in negligence. The owners of the land claimed that they had taken reasonable care. They relied on Section 150 (4) (c).

The evidence was that the rainstorm was so severe that is was likely to occur once every 200 years. In the previous 40 years there has been no significant wash out of 2 fields owned by the Defendants from which the soil etc had come. The Defendant had owned two other fields nearby which had been the subject of wash out in 1989 and twice in 1994. The Defendants had decided not to use those fields in order to minimise the risk of further wash out. The fields in question in this action were used for arable farming which was a significant cause of the 1999 washout. The Judge found that the Defendants because of the similarities between these fields and the fields where they had stopped farming should have been aware of the risks of a washout. Therefore he found that they did not make out a defence of reasonable care and judgment was entered for the County Council. The Judge also found liability and negligence.

The Defendant appealed.

The decision

1. Reasonable care under the Act was a broad common sense test.

2. Guidance had been produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food dealing with erosion risks. That guidance clearly identified fields of this sort as being high risk.

3. The Defendants knew of the risk with regard to the two fields where they had ceased farming.

4. There had been however no obvious signs of washout from the fields in question in this Action when the decision had been taken with regard to the other fields. There had been no washout in over 40 years.

No reasonable person would have predicted a washout other than in exceptional circumstances. The burden of establishing reasonable care by the Defendants was therefore discharged. The negligence claim also therefore failed.

Appeal Allowed.

Focus on...

Legal updates

Court of Appeal confirms exclusive English jurisdiction clause in excess liability policies in Canadian pipeline dispute

On 10 June 2022 the Court of Appeal upheld an anti-suit injunction granted in favour of insurers by Mr Justice Jacobs in September 2021 restraining proceedings from being brought in Canada and enforcing the exclusive English jurisdiction clause in excess liability policies.



Payment Fraud landscape shaped by technology in 2021

Payment systems across Europe are under increased pressure to mitigate fraud risks and defend against persistent attacks from enablers using ever more sophisticated and malicious viruses and malware.


Legal updates

Gosden and another v Halliwell Landau and another [2021] EWHC 159 (Comm)

This claim addressed the question, of when the date for assessment of damages in cases of negligence should be determined and shows that when appropriate the Courts will depart from the default position.


Legal updates

Assessing the scope of employers liability – Chell v Tarmac

These were the opening remarks of Mr Justice Martin Spencer when handing down his Judgment in the recent case of Andrew Chell v Tarmac Cement and Lime Limited [2020] EWHC 2613, the latest in a series of appeals dealing with the scope of vicarious liability.


The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

Mailing list sign up

Select which mailings you would like to receive from us.

Sign up