Devon County Council is facing a huge compensation payout after it was found that a pothole caused a road traffic accident in 2006.
The accident left two people severely and permanently injured, after a Land Rover hit the pothole and collided with trees while driving on the C25 between Honiton and Smeatharpe.
At the High Court Mrs Justice Slade found the council responsible saying the inspection regime used for the stretch of road where the accident occurred was inadequate and the road condition was “well below a standard a reasonable driver could expect”.
The judge stated the pothole was 8cms deep and the road was used by heavy vehicles.
The council accepted the pothole would have been repaired and dealt with had it been identified by one of their inspections and said the inspection frequency had been reduced due to budget cuts, an excuse which was not accepted by the judge, especially given the £23,000 inspection cost from a highways budget of £71m.
She described it as a “weak justification” especially given the council could not put forward a risk assessment for reducing the frequency of inspections.
The accident left passengers with hideous injuries. One passenger was awarded a £3m lump sum together with index-linked annual payments of £275,000 to cover care costs. Following the accident the passenger was left tetraplegic and suffered a traumatic amputation of one arm.
Another was awarded a £1.25m lump sum payout after suffering brain damage and skeletal injuries.
The passengers’ anonymity was respected in court.
The council’s defence of the driver being partially responsible was rejected by the judge.
She said: “In my judgment Devon could reasonably be expected to know before the accident of the poor condition of the offside edge and verge of the highway and that they were likely to cause damage to traffic.”
The exact compensation amount is still being quantified, and it is likely Devon County Council will be responsible for paying it.