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Ignorance is no defence; highways, bollards & lighting


Hawes v. Essex County Council (Case No: TLQ/14/0276)

In 1969, a scheme was drawn up by various local authorities for the construction of an underpass in the centre of Harlow.   When completed by the now defunct Harlow Urban District Council (“HUDC”) under its Highways Act powers, unlit concrete bollards were placed in the middle of pedestrian approaches to one side of that underpass. 

Late at night in August 2008, Kirstie Hawes left a pub and walked down to the underpass.  It was dark and she was not able to discern one of those bollards.  She collided with it, fell awkwardly and suffered severe injury to her right knee.  In litigation described by Robert Francis QC as “tortuous and prolonged”, two local authorities persisted in alleging that the other bore responsibilities for the bollard, while both denied that the Claimant had a valid personal injury claim.  By the time the case came to trial in the High Court (QBD), the claim against Harlow DC had been compromised and that against Essex CC proceeded, alone.    The judgment considers at length the components of the available causes of action, both statutory and at common law.

What was clear to the Court by the attitude struck by both local authorities to the litigation was that neither had given the bollard and its surrounding area much consideration.  With the benefit of evidence from lighting engineers, and notwithstanding the absence of reported like accidents, the Court had no hesitation in concluding that the unlit bollard presented a dangerous obstruction to users of the underpass at night.

By Section 254(2)(h) of the Local Government Act 1972 and Article  6(1) of the Local Government (Road Traffic and Highways)(Transitional Provisions) Order 1974, responsibility for the relevant area had been transferred from HUDC to Essex CC.   Essex CC was thereby deemed to have erected the bollard with which Ms Hawes collided.

Liability for Ms Hawes’ accident rested with Essex CC, in nuisance and in negligence.  This was so, notwithstanding that Authority’s lack of established direct involvement in the construction of the bollard and its ignorance until November 2012 (through disclosure in this litigation) that the accident area formed part of the highway for which it was responsible.

Judgment on liability was handed down on 21 May 2014.  Quantum is yet to be resolved.

Christopher Walker acts for the Claimant


Hawes v. Essex County Council  (Case No: TLQ/14/0276)

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