9 December 2013

Slipping on Snow and Ice: and the duty of your local council

Since 2003 your local authority has been under a statutory duty to ensure "so far as is reasonably practicable, safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow and ice". The highway includes the roadway and pavement.

What does that mean?

It is the responsibility of our courts to define what Parliament means when it introduces a new law. However, and so far,   in the last 10 years there have been no reported cases where a senior judge has had to determine the circumstance when a local authority might breach its statutory duty to clear snow and ice. (That may change if the UK continues to suffer cold winters as recently has been the case.)

This is no surprise. Councils are bound to be given significant latitude in such cases where the public interest in committing limited (tax payers) resources to clear snow and ice must be balanced against our private rights to be reasonably safe when using the highway. So long as a local council appears to have acted reasonably and have adopted and executed a half sensible policy to prioritise snow clearance,  few judges will be willing to override that,  accept in the most egregious cases.

On the other hand, where injuries suffered are serious and life changing, the courts will  expect  a local authority to account for their actions if there is any evidence that snow and ice was responsible and ought reasonably to have been cleared before any accident.

In our borough of  Hackney  while the main roads are cleared and salted quickly after snow that often is not  the case with  side streets and residential areas. For pedestrians,  pavements can become ice rinks outside their homes and where they have little choice but to negotiate,  if they are to get to work or to local shops.

After a heavy snow fall how long should a council be allowed before clearing your street? Perhaps 7 to 14 days is reasonable for a side road but more than that might require a proper explanation, in our view.

Evidence will be crucial- eg. independent witnesses, photographs of the road or pavement, statements from neighbours about the delay in clearance-  and if there have been recorded complaints about the same stretch of road that have not been acted on that will help to establish  a breach of duty

We are happy to review a claim if you are unlucky enough to suffer injury by a fall on snow or ice.