No duty of care by the landowner for adjacent roads

Partner Matthew Bailey comments on a key recent court ruling, it was found that the owner of land next to a road junction could not be held liable for a motor accident that occurred; where the driver maintained that vegetation had obscured his view.

In effect, the ruling found that an owner of land adjacent to a junction on a highway does not owe a duty of care to road users to maintain vegetation they had caused to grow on their land so that its height does not obstruct a vehicle driver’s view when approaching the junction.

In the case, the claimant was cycling along a main road when he was in collision with a car driven by the defendant as it emerged from a minor road on the claimant’s left. The claimant sustained serious injuries in the accident. He brought proceedings in negligence against the defendant, who denied liability and alleged contributory negligence by the landowner.

The defendant contended that visibility at the junction was severely restricted by the presence of vegetation to his right, in particular on a fenced-off parcel of land bordering the roads at the junction. He commenced proceedings against the council and the Welsh government, as highways authorities for the roads and owners of the land, alleging negligence and/or breach of statutory duty in relation to the state of the vegetation and seeking a contribution in respect of any liability he might be found to have to the claimant.

The implications of this case could have been profound if the defendant had been successful. Farmers would need to consider visibility on the highway when deciding where to plant crops, hedges and trees and when to harvest, prune or fell them. Similar issues would arise in relation to the planting of shrubs, hedges or trees in urban and suburban gardens. And while the present case concerned vegetation, the principle would extend to the erection of buildings, fences and other structures that might possibly affect visibility on the highway.

Matthew said “If a duty of care were found to exist in the present case, it would be likely to encourage a marked growth in claims by drivers’ insurers for contributions from owners of land adjacent to the highway in cases where visibility was an issue (and such owners would not necessarily have public liability insurance) and a marked growth in the business of providing expert advice to landowners on the implications of vegetation and structures on their land for visibility on the adjoining road network. Those were potentially serious and costly consequences for very little practical gain”.

In the event, the court maintained the view that it would not be just, fair or reasonable to find that the land owner had a duty of care in circumstances of the kind found in the present case.

If you would like assistance in connection with a road traffic accident, call Matthew on 01329 822333 for further information.





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