Today the TPA has published a new report looking at the costs of compensation claims for slips and trips in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. All the data comes from councils via Freedom of Information requests, and we focused on unitary authorities and county councils, as they have responsibility for maintaining highways and pavements. Click here to read the report.
Here are some of the key findings:
- £5 million was paid out in compensation across 14 local authorities in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. That's £1.25 million a year.
- This is an average of over £358,000 per authority over the last four financial years.
- 9 of the 14 authorities had legal costs higher than the compensation pay out.
- Greater expenditure on pavement and walkway maintenance does not necessarily lead to a reduction in the number of claims and total cost of compensation pay outs.
It is difficult to sue your council. If the council can prove it has inspected the pavements in its care correctly, and has dealt with reports of defective pavements promptly, you will not be successful. This is why it is important for councils to have a rigorous inspection regime. There will always be some defects that go under the radar, however the disparities between councils covered in this report are stark.
For example, Donacaster Council paid out £359,000 in compensation and £564,000 in legal costs, however Barnsley Council paid out £122,000 in compensation and almost £216,000 in legal costs. Kirklees Council paid out £437,000 in compensation and £182,000 in legal costs, whilst the smaller authority, Wakefield, paid £677,000 in compensation and £635,000 in legal costs.
It can be argued that some areas may be more litigious than others. There is certainly a growing compensation culture in the UK, and this will be a factor. The evidence though does point to some councils being on the ball, and others that are not. Councils must look at their inspection regimes, and see if improvements can be made. This is what North East Lincolnshire Council has done, and when you look at the report you will see, compared to other councils, its figures are relatively small.
When it comes to legal fees, although we don't want councils to waste taxpayers' money paying out on frivolous claims, at the same time, if it is clear compensation is due, they should agree a figure to save more time and money being wasted. Personally, if I tripped over a defective paving stone I would report it to the council and ask them to repair it, however we know there are many in society who don't think like that, and regard an accident as a money spinner. If councils know they have not repaired a defect in good time, and know they are negligent, it is taxpayers' interests to settle the claim, as ultimately they will lose the case if it goes to court, and the legal bills will be higher.
A spokesman for Hull City Council said on BBC Radio Humberside this morning they are the guardians of the public purse. That should be true, and I hope councils will look at this report and ensure their inspection regimes are thorough, and they are doing everything they can to keep compensation costs to a minimum.