A lack of warning signs doesn’t mean you can avoid blame…
I was riding in heavy traffic behind a caravan. The traffic was moving at somewhere around 20 mph and I probably wasn’t concentrating as hard as I should have been. The towed caravan came to a very sharp stop and I ran into the back of it. I fell from my bike and broke my wrist. The road was gravelly and rough and I hit the caravan upright.
The car ahead of the towing car had braked when he came across temporary traffic lights which had just flicked from green. I had no expectation of temporary traffic lights and I am sure that there were no signs warning me. I appreciate I am going to have to suck up a lot of the blame for this but do I have a claim against the people who set up the roadworks without putting up warning signs?
You have a cause of action and you could get it to trial but I suspect you will lose. The signage requirements are set out in a very dull but readily available Traffic Signs Manual.
Chapter 8 is the relevant section and a Google search will reveal it. However, breach of the manual does not give rise to immediate cause of action.
It sets out a benchmark for what should be done before works are carried out on the highway. If the highway workers do not do this, then the courts can draw an inference that where there is clear guidance as to how a job should be done, then failure to do it in this way can amount to negligence but it is by no means guaranteed.
If you were to bring a claim, you would bring it on two potential grounds. The first is negligence, namely that the people carrying out the roadworks fell below the standards of a reasonable “statutory undertaker” – the general catch-all term for people who carry out authorised work on roads.
The courts would certainly take notice of a failure to put signage up. That, alone, does not mean you are onto a winner though. The second, more-technical area is the law of public nuisance. If you place something on the highway which can foreseeably harm or interfere with one of the Queen’s subjects’ use of the highway (this is very old law) and a person suffers a special harm from such interference – which you have – then you can bring a claim in nuisance.
As a matter of strict law, you do not have to prove negligence to establish a claim in nuisance. There is a Court of Appeal decision from 1972 which remains good law, though I’m far from convinced that the Court of Appeal would make the same decision now. However, the 1972 case would bind. In so far as nuisance is concerned, the County Court judge who would be hearing your case. So far, so good, then. Unfortunately not.
Factually I anticipate that the road workers would be able to provide evidence that the signs were put up. They may have been put up foolishly, so they were obscured, and may not be repeated on both sides of the road or they could have been removed by ‘mischievous third parties’ but where I think you will lose is on causation. The judge would have to determine what caused the collision. Was it you following too closely and not concentrating enough or was it the failure to put up signs?
There was a case on roughly similar facts which went to appeal. In which a cyclist ran into a trailer which was unlawfully parked in the cycle lane. The judge of first instance and the Appeal Court both said the same thing. If you ride into something, it really is your lookout that is largely to blame. The trailer owner was found 30% culpable but he dumped a trailer in a cycle lane and was not carrying authorised work on the highway.
Different rules will apply to the road but if you can see something and you ride into it, and that thing isn’t doing anything especially unusual, you will struggle getting over the third test of a civil wrong. In order to bring a civil claim for wrongdoing, you need to show a duty of care, breach of that duty and causation of loss. The latter is where your claim, I fear, will sink.
RiDE Magazine February 2021