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Injury - Who is Liable?

Sometimes, cases involving personal injuries lead to decisions which do not at first glance seem to be those you would expect.

Following a similar case some months ago, involving a woman whose car collided with a bus, a further case has now been decided which has concluded that a local council is not responsible for the layout of a highway, despite having a statutory duty to maintain it. The more recent case arose because a woman was injured when she fell into a ditch which ran alongside the path on which she was walking. Whilst the close proximity of the path and ditch meant that the path was potentially unsafe, the council's duty did not extend to making it safe.

In another case, a surgeon operated on a patient without informing her of the very small (one to two per cent chance) clinical risk that the operation might lead to paralysis caused by the ‘cauda equina syndrome’. Although the surgeon performed the operation competently, the patient did suffer from the syndrome, about which she had not been informed. The House of Lords concluded that had the patient been informed of the risk, she might not have consented to surgery and that the surgeon had been negligent in not bringing the risk of an adverse reaction to her attention.

A further case, in which the Department for Transport was sued for failing to prevent the formation of ice on the road, which was a contributory factor in a fatal accident, also confirmed that the Department is not under a duty to prevent ice from forming. The local council had maintained the road in accordance with the Department's ‘Trunk Roads Maintenance Manual’. Furthermore, there was no evidence that the deceased had relied on the assumption that the road had been salted. Motorists cannot rely on the highway authority to maintain roads in an ice-free condition and have a primary duty to take their own steps to ensure their safety.