I am a pretty experienced motorcyclist. I was riding along rural roads in an area which I do not know particularly well. I started braking for a corner and as I got round the corner it became clear to me that the corner was much, much tighter than I was expecting. Panicking, I decided to get on the brakes, and I sat the bike up, overshot the corner and finished up a farmer’s field. I was moderately seriously injured.
However, there were posts left on the bend. Those posts usually had warning chevrons fitted on them, along with a ‘sharp bend in the road’ sign. The farmer himself was not particularly sympathetic. However he did say that the bend did have chevrons on it, but – and I quote him directly – “Idiots like you keep knocking them down”. The chevron boards were nowhere to be seen, making me think that they had been knocked down and removed or just removed.
I am usually pretty careful, and I have ridden for over 20 years without any incident caused by lack of observation. The bend in the road was not quite doubling back on itself but it was very tight. The road surface was OK, but not perfect. Do I have any claim against anyone?
The highway authority has no duty in law to put up warning signs. There was a flurry of cases in the late 1990s and the early part of the millennium where this was considered by the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. The relatively complex law can be summed up as follows: the highway authority owes no duty to post warnings for ordinary road features. If there is no duty there can be no breach of duty, and if there is no breach of duty, then you cannot sue.
Even if something as simple as painting the word ‘slow’ in the road would avoid an accident, the highway authority does not have to do it. The duty is upon the road user to travel at such a speed that he can safely negotiate the features of the road. The highway authority is not responsible for the way that the road has developed over (in some cases) hundreds or even thousands of years. As a judge said many years ago: “The parish is not responsible for the topography of a road.”
If you can establish that the signs were knocked down by a road user, then you have a potential ‘untraced drivers’ claim against the Motor Insurers Bureau. You would have to show on the balance of probabilities that first of all the signs were knocked down by another road user who would, in the normal course of events, be insured. With rather greater difficulty you would also have to show that the absence of road signs warning you of the bend was directly causative, and it was not your speed which was causative of the loss of control.
This is the position in England, Wales and Scotland. Most European jurisdictions do place a duty upon highways authorities to put up reasonable warning signs for roads.
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