This is probably one of the most prevalent enquiries we get where people have accidents, be it on the footpath or on the roadway, which are public places. The Local Authority is normally the party that a claim such as this is taken against. The law on this matter is very old but is still the main principle of the law. It refers to the liability of the Local Authority for “misfeasance” or “non-feasance”.
These are both difficult terms to fully understand but put simply, the principle is that the local authorities are not liable for leaving public footpaths or roads in improper repair; they are not liable for failing to take steps to restore these roads or footpaths to a proper state of repair (non-feasance). If, however, they do anything and do it in such a way as to create a danger, they are liable (misfeasance).
To give you an example, we have all come across cases of potholes on roads which develop through normally wear and tear over the years. The Council do operate a system of “patching”, that is repairing the pothole with tarmac. That may only last for a certain period. If one trips in a pothole which has not been “patched”, then there is no case, whereas if the patching which has been done by the Council has eroded and broken down, then normally they are liable in that circumstance.
Similar remarks apply to a footpath which breaks down through ordinary wear and tear and no work at all is done on it, then the Council cannot be made liable in that case. We all have come across footpaths that may have been built 20 or 30 years ago which have subsided over the years then normally in those type of cases the Council have a good defence to make under the heading of non-feasance.
Our firm were involved in a very complex case against a Local Authority where a young gentleman suffered very serious injuries involving the loss of an arm in a single vehicle collision when the car that he was driving, went out of control and left the road.
There was no apparent reason for the car going out of control. There was a history of accidents and cars going out of control on this road, but we had great difficulty in proving that any works which were done on the road were of a substandard and defective nature.
Liability was fully contested by the County Council. The case eventually settled for €900,000.00 plus legal costs which was below the full value of the case. It was our view and the view of our Barristers that it was a case that might not succeed before the Courts hence the case settled as the client did not want to take that risk.