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Sandhar v Department of Transport and Environment in the Regions, High Court, 19 January 2004

26 January 2004
The issues

Highways – Goodes -v- East Sussex County Council – snow and ice – road traffic.

The facts

This action was brought by the widow of the deceased driver who was killed on the A428 in Bedfordshire on the 22nd December 1996. He lost control on the icy surface of the road and collided with a tree. Goodes -v- East Sussex CC was authority for the fact that a highway authority were not under a duty of care in respect of snow and ice on the highway. That case was subject to statutory overruling by the amendment to the Highways Act which commenced as from 1st November 2003, providing that a highway authority were under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice. The Claimant was one of a number of Claimants who found themselves in the situation of having their claims barred by the decision in Goodes. The Claimant therefore amended her pleadings to argue for a common law duty of care. This had not been argued in Goodes because the common law argument had been abandoned by the Claimants in that case. It was found as a fact that no salt run had been ordered by the relevant individual in Bedfordshire but that had he accessed the Icelert system to obtain information, he would have learned of conditions giving rise to the formation of hoar frost and would have ordered a salt run which would have included the A428 and in all probability would have prevented the accident from happening.

The decision

1. The policy of the Highways Act provided for the occasions when an exercise of a power would give rise to compensation. The power to improve the Highway under Section 62(ii) did not give rise to a right to compensation.

2. There was no discernable Policy in the 1980 Act that the transient hazards of nature from fog, ice or wind were to be provided against by highway authorities. They were matters which fell within the discretion of the authorities.

3. There were no exceptional grounds for concluding that the policy of the Statute required compensation to be paid to those who suffered loss because the power to prevent harm from frost was not exercised or if exercised, not implemented to the full.

4. The mere existence of the Trunk Roads Maintenance Manual did not make it reasonable to impose a duty upon the Defendant to pay compensation because the Scheme was not properly implemented

5. The mere existence of the Trunk Roads Maintenance Manual was not sufficient to create a set of circumstances in which there was a sufficient relationship of proximity between the Defendant and the deceased to require the Defendant to act as he could have done at the relevant time.

6. It followed that the Defendant was not under a common law duty of care to prevent ice forming from hoar frost or to remove frost from the road.

Claim dismissed

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