I was out riding with some friends and we had an argument about hitting a pothole on your bike. Some think you have a claim, others don’t.

This argument then expanded into diesel spills, tree branches, and cow pats etc., so we thought we’d ask the expert…


Buckle in for a quick legal tour. Cow pats: yes, you have a claim. This also applies to mud dragged across the road by cattle or even a tractor moving between fields and depositing mud. Your claim is against the person who caused the cattle/mud to cross and who left a mess on the road. It is usually a farm owner or their hand. The claim is quite easy if you have the registration number of the tractor, but if it is cattle crossing, you must show evidence of their crossing and that the owner/hand failed to clean up after them. It is usually the adjacent farm.

Diesel spills are the responsibility of the person who spilt it. If you see them doing it, this is nice and easy. Get the registration and bring a claim. If, however, you come across diesel spilt much earlier, then you have a claim against the MIB (Untraced Drivers’ Agreement) if the vehicle ought to have ordinarily been insured, i.e., it wouldn’t apply to a vehicle that doesn’t need insurance pursuant to S.144 of the RTA 1988. These include police vehicles, NHS, or local authority vehicles. In those circumstances, you’d need to bring a claim against that body, whicti can be tricky.

Tree branches is an interesting one. You might have a claim against the owner of the tree, but you’d need to tender evidence that they ought to have known the tree was diseased or rotten and took no steps to protect against it injuring those on public land. The burden is on you to prove this, not on the tree owner to disprove it.

Potholes are the responsibility of the local authority. They are not responsible for surface-lying material, i.e., road detritus, unless you can show that the gravel was the fabric of the highway. They also have some statutory defences available to them if they didn’t know of the pothole.

Gavin Grewal

Fast Bikes October 2023