Forget not stepping on the lines, they’re safer for pedestrians than drain covers
According to the children’s game, stepping on the lines between paving stones was to be avoided at all costs, although the penalty for doing so was often unclear. However, the unfortunate consequences of stepping on a defective drain or manhole or drain-cover are clearer. Injuries sustained in this way range from grazes and shock to broken bones and, in extreme cases, death – and raising a compensation claim after such an eventuality is not straightforward.
Until the implementation of The Water Industry (Schemes for Adoption of Private Sewers) Regulations of 2011, drain-covers on private land were not the responsibility of the relevant water authority. These rules provided for the relevant water authority to adopt such drains but did not set out any legal requirement for their maintenance, so the water companies’ liability rests in common law negligence rather than as a breach of statutory duty.
The regulations also avoided delegating highway issues to the Highway Authority, which would have provided statutory obligations of inspection and repair under the Highways Act 1980. This appears to be a deliberate omission, considering the potential cost implications for water authorities and the public purse.
Consequently if, as a member of the public, you tread on a defective drain-cover and injure yourself by falling into the drain your prospects of successfully making a claim for damages are limited. To succeed you would need to show the water authority was negligent, and establishing such negligence is likely to be all but impossible without evidence that a notice of the defect had already been served, especially if the owner of the land where the drain-cover is sited has not perceived such a risk.
The 2011 regulations’ initial approach is understandable – at the time it was recognised that the imposition of a specific duty to inspect and repair each drain-cover and manhole would have been too onerous and impracticable as the existence or precise location of some of the apparatus was unknown and the cost of accurately establishing their whereabouts would have been prohibitive, especially for those drains located on private land.
However, as the years pass by, there is an increasing risk that drain-covers on private land and footpaths are deteriorating and therefore creating significant hazard to pedestrians – under these circumstances, it may be safer to walk on the cracks than on the drain-covers.
Garry Sleet. Personal Injury departmentGeneral, George Ide, News, Personal Injury Blog