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Highways authority successfully defends claim by injured motorcyclist

A motorcyclist seriously injured when exiting a petrol station has no claim against Luton Borough Council over the state of the highway, the High Court has decided.

Mr Justice Martin Spencer expressed sympathy for the injuries suffered by the claimant but said in O'Connor v Luton Borough Council [2021] EWHC 1691 (QB) these could not be attributed to a rut in a road maintained by the council.

The claimant was leaving a petrol station in Leagrave to join a convoy heading to a motorcycling event when the accident happened.

The court heard she lost control of the motorbike, which eventually collided with a car.

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Her injuries were initially feared to be life-threatening, with bleeding to the brain, broken arms, a broken leg and a collapsed lung.

After the accident, the claimant’s two children wrote to Luton to say: “Subject to the police report, we are of the opinion that the accident was due to the nature of the pothole which is over one metre in length and depth able to trap a motorbike wheel when the rider is turning left out of the garage.

“It is also showing petrol/diesel due to its position between the garage/road. If the police report agrees with our opinion then we will put the material in the hands of our solicitors.”

Martin Spencer J said: “I have come to the conclusion that, on the evidence, I am not satisfied, on the balance of probability, that the claimant rode over the particular defect of which complaint is made.”

The claim that the claimant did ride over this section depended on evidence from witnesses who the judge found unreliable and it was not mention to police who attended the accident.

He concluded: “It may be that there is something about the overall structure of the exit from the garage - the camber together with the different surfaces (including the granite setts which line the exit) with their different coefficients of friction - which causes a degree of difficulty for motorcycle riders.”

Clutch control is critical in such circumstances and a momentary loss of concentration may have caused the claimant to misjudge the situation at the critical moment, the judge said, adding “I find this all the more likely as she would have been anxious to join the line of traffic at just the right moment so as to slot in behind [other riders]”.

He said there were “a multitude of factors which could have contributed” to the accident and evidence pointing towards the rut being the cause was “unconvincing and unreliable”.

Mark Smulian

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