If you come across an unsigned roundabout and have an accident, who is liable?
I was recently involved in a nasty bike accident on my R1 where no one else was involved, but was wondering if I had a case for complaint against the local council due to the poor road lay out and lack of signage.
I was traveling along a straight B-road with a 40mph limit on a dry summer’s day. I could see in the distance that the road went round to the left slightly. I’ll be honest, I don’t recall how fast I was going, but it was probably a lot more than 40mph. As I got close to this left hand bend I suddenly realised that hidden in the area that was out of view was a mini roundabout. What I thought was a right hand bend was actually a road exiting the far side of the roundabout.
I slammed on my brakes and realised I was going too fast to stop in time. My bike ended up skidding out of control – then suddenly a cyclist appeared in front of me from the exit ahead traveling towards my direction. I was heading straight for him and the back of my bike was all over the place. The only other thing I could do was try and apply more front brake. Then all I remember is my backwheel coming up and me flying over the handlebars.
I landed on my right shoulder and back, and slid, back first, into a high kerb. I had a back protector on but I still sustained seven broken ribs, a broken right collarbone and minor spinal injuries as well as damage to my right lung and stomach.
When I went back to the scene it is apparent that unless you know the road, the roundabout is completely hidden from view and there is no signpost telling you to slow down or that there is a roundabout ahead. It looked like there was a metal post, which should have had a sign attached to it, but it was bare. Granted, if I was traveling at 40mph I probably would have seen the roundabout in time to act accordingly. But surely it should still be signposted for safety? Is it worth pursuing this case or would I be wasting my time?
I have to complement your honesty. However, my advice to you is going to be just as honest. The highway authority has no specific duty to put up warnings for anything short of a trap. It is well established law, at House of Lords level, that the user of a road owes a high duty of care to himself and other road users to anticipate what the road might be.
Even if a blind dogleg chicane is round the corner, the highway authority has no duty to warn road users of it. This is very different to most European jurisdictions and there was some movement away from this hard interpretation of highway law in the mid-1980s, but the House of Lords has made the position crystal clear. There is no duty from the highway authority to put up signs, and if there is no duty, there can be no breach of duty.
Without a breach of duty, you cannot sue anyone. Every method imaginable has been tried by various lawyers, myself included, to try and work away around this. However, the House of Lords made it clear that if a duty was going to be imposed on highway authorities, it would have to come from Parliament.
Fast Bikes February 2014