The Pothole Plague – Claiming Damages

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The Pothole Plague – Claiming Damages

by | Apr 25, 2024

“If cars are required to be roadworthy, shouldn’t roads be required to be car-worthy?” (Online meme)

If you fall victim to a pothole-infested road, don’t hesitate to sue for your losses. A recent High Court victory for a motorist claiming R8.6m in damages confirms yet again that those charged with maintaining our roads can be made to pay for failing to do so.

R8.6m claimed for a pothole crash
  • A motorist hit a pothole on a gravel road, lost control, and hit a tree. Severe injuries landed him in the ICU with no memory of the crash, and he claimed R8.6m from a provincial department of Public Works and Roads for past and future medical expenses, past and future loss of earnings and general damages.
  • His case was that the department’s negligence was the sole cause of his accident. He was, he said, a careful driver unfamiliar with the road in question. As he had no recollection of the accident, the Court relied on expert testimony that the vehicle and tyres were in good condition and his speed was probably about 80kph, whilst the road had numerous potholes and no signs warning of hazards or speed limits despite it being a road notorious for accidents.
  • The department flatly denied any liability and said there were no potholes in the road. Alternatively, it claimed that the accident was caused solely by the driver’s negligence, alternatively that he was contributorily negligent for failing to keep a proper lookout, driving at an excessive speed, and failing to avoid the accident when he could have done so.
  • On the facts the Court held the department 100% liable for whatever damages are proved or agreed. The driver, said the Court, had proved that the department had a duty of care to him, his injuries resulted from its breach of that duty, and it had a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent harm. It was negligent in not maintaining the road and in not keeping it in a constant state of repair.
  • On the other side of the coin, the department had not proved any contributory negligence on the part of the motorist – it alone was to blame.
Drivers – your duty to keep a proper lookout

None of that of course means that you will automatically be able to recover for vehicle damage or injury caused by a pothole. As our courts have put it: “A driver of a motor vehicle is obliged to maintain a proper look-out. He (or she) must pay attention to what is happening around him; but most important of all, he must as far as possible keep his eyes on the road …”.

That boils down to simply taking common-sense safety precautions – being aware of the general condition of the road, keeping a proper lookout at all times (a particularly sharp lookout when visibility is poor), travelling carefully and at a reasonable speed, paying attention to road hazard signs and speed limits, keeping your vehicle safe and roadworthy.

All are factors that a court will take into account if you end up in a legal fight, and if you are shown not to have complied with any one of them you risk either losing your claim in total, or having your claim apportioned for contributory negligence.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

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