Public Highway Accident Claims Guide – How To Claim Compensation For An Accident on The Highway?

Public Highway Accident Claims

Public Highway Accident Claims

By Stephen Chambers. Last Updated 21st March 2022. If an accident on a public highway occurs, you might put it down as ‘one of those things’ but in fact, it may be possible to claim compensation for any injuries caused by an act of negligence.

A public highway, by definition, is an area of land that members of the public can use without any permission needing to be sought. The term covers streets, roads, footpaths or any other type of land where the public has the right to travel through. In this guide, we’ll provide you with information on making a personal injury claim for accidents on a public highway.

If you want to discuss an accident with our advisors, you can contact us online using our contact form or our 24/7 live chat service. You can also call us on 0800 408 7825.

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A Guide To Personal Injury Claims For Accidents On A Public Highway

Public highways are available to all members of the public to use for transport or travel. There is no need to seek permission to use them and there are no limits on how many times they can be used. Typically, any road operated by the Highways Agency, county or district councils is a public highway. Public highways are available for pedestrians, drivers, cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries, buses and any other type of transportation.

You might be able to claim compensation for an accident on a public highway if it was caused by negligence and it caused you to become injured. However, you may have questions such as “who do you claim against when you’re looking to start public highway accident claims?”. This article will cover who to make a claim against, what to do following an accident, common accidents in public places and different types of public injury claims.

We’ll also cover the amounts of compensation that can be awarded and how to make a No Win No Fee personal injury claim.

What Is An Accident On A Highway?

An accident on a highway is any accident which cause and injury to be sustained because of some form of defect in the highway or other sort of negligence. They could be caused raised kerb stones, potholes, mud on the road, damaged street furniture or something blocking the highway. They can even be caused because road markings have been worn away and not re-painted.

If something is blocking the highway, the claim might be against the person or business who blocked it, rather than the authority which is responsible for the road.

Accidents in a public place can be tricky claims to settle, as proving liability can be difficult in some cases. We’ll give you some advice later in this guide about what to do following any type of road accident but, even with all of the evidence to support your claim, it could be a difficult case to win.

While it is possible to make your own compensation claim, we recommend that you make use of a No Win No Fee service offered by a personal injury lawyer. They are experts in these types of claims and have the knowledge of which legislation to use to support a claim. If you try to begin a claim alone, you’ll probably have to negotiate with specialists advisors on the defendant’s and while this guide can help, it can’t provide you with the legal training that a specialist lawyer will have had.

What Are Dangerous Highways?

Claiming compensation from a local council is not always easy as they can sometimes argue that, even if a road defect existed, it wasn’t unsafe – and courts can take that view too.

In general, any defect which is over an inch high or deep could be deemed as dangerous.  Anything below this might be classed as a minor defect. That said, smaller defects have led to successful claims in the past.

If you’re considering claiming compensation after tripping on a highway or pavement, personal injury lawyers could be consulted so that they can help assess potential highway tripping claims. Photographs and video footage of the defect can really help, especially if you can use a ruler or other measuring device in the photograph to demonstrate its height.

Personal Injury Claims Calculator For An Accident On A Public Highway

When you make a claim, you need to prove that the injuries you are claiming for are real and were directly caused by the incident your case centres on. How much compensation may ultimately be offered if your claim succeeds depends on which exact injuries are claimed for and how severe they are deemed to be.

What Damages Could You Receive Compensation For Through Accident Claims?

When making accident in public place claims, lawyers can make claims for a number of different elements. Some deal with physical or psychological injury while others are used to cover the financial impact of an injury. These elements are known legally as ‘Heads of Loss’ and they include:

  • General Damages: Compensation that is paid to cover the pain, suffering and loss of amenity caused by injuries. Examples of general damages can be found in the compensation table in the previous section.
  • Medical Expenses: Although the NHS offers free treatment for any injuries, the cost of prescriptions, over the counter medicines and other treatments can soon build up. It is possible, in some cases, to claim medical expenses back.
  • Travel Costs: Another element that might be claimed back is the costs associated with travelling to and from the doctor’s surgery.
  • Care Costs: Some victims making public accident claims have serious injuries which mean they require professional care to support them while they recover from their injuries. It’s sometimes possible to claim costs back in this category.
  • Damaged Property Costs: When an accident occurs, it’s quite usual for items of personal property to be damaged. This includes jewellery, spectacles, clothing or mobile phones. It’s possible to include the cost of repairing or replacing these items in the claim.
  • Lost Income: This can be a large part of some claims, especially if it includes future lost income. This could happen if the injuries sustained during accidents in public places is so serious that they cause long term health problems.  This could mean the victim needs a lot of time off from work. Or they might have to change roles or has to stop working altogether. If this can be proven to be linked to the accident, the potential lost earnings could be included in any claim. 

Special Damages

Compensation for financial losses (special damages) is awarded to ensure that the claimant is left in the same position (financially at least) as they were before they were involved in the accident. Special damages are not penalties or fines and are not intended to make the claimant better off.

To support a claim, you should keep hold of any receipts or bank statements as evidence of your expenditure.

Statistics And Common Accidents On A Highway

Some of the more common accidents in public places that occur include:

  • Slips, trips or falls caused by raised paving slabs, potholes or subsidence.
  • Icy road or path conditions.
  • Missing or damaged manhole or utility covers (such as water meter covers).
  • Missing or worn-out road markings causing road traffic injuries.
  • Surfaces that are worn or defective causing skidding and leading to road accidents.

Councils or the Highways Agency are provided with public funds to inspect, maintain and repair the public highway. If they fail to do so, compensation might be possible. This would be if a defect caused an accident to happen and caused injuries to any victims.

Accidents On Highway Footpaths

As well as maintain the road system, the local authority or highway agency, are responsible for maintaining paths as well. This means, any defect in the path which leads to an accident which causes injuries, could mean the victim is able to claim compensation for those injuries.

Accidents which are caused because a highway was blocked, causing the victim to trip or fall, might not be possible against the authority responsible for maintaining the road. In these cases, a lawyer will try to ascertain who blocked the highway. This could be while making deliveries to business, placing advertising on a path or by trailing cables, hoses or other equipment across the path.  If they believe the other party involved was negligent, a claim could be made against them.

Raised paving slabs, potholes, missing kerb stones or damaged street furniture could all be to blame for an accident on a path and possibly lead to a compensation claim.

Is The Local Authority Liable For My Accident?

The local authority that is responsible for a highway isn’t automatically liable for any accident that occurs on it.   To be held liable, the following would need to be proven:

  • The path, road or highway was not reasonably safe to be used by pedestrians; and also
  • Any accident was caused by the dangerous state of the highway.

The local authority is likely to try and contest their liability for any accident  by using their own team of legal advisors. First of all they will look at liability as a whole.  If they do agree to liability for the accident, they are likely to contest the extent of the injuries to reduce the compensation amount.

Therefore, it’s highly recommended that any claim should be made by a personal injury lawyer who specialises in such claims.

When May The Local Authority Not Be Liable?

Under the Highways Act 1980, a local authority can have a line of defence against any claim against it. The act states that the authority needs to conduct regular inspections of the highway. They must also repair any defects that their inspections highlight.

The frequency of the inspections is determined by the type of highway. So, a busy main road or a high street might require monthly inspections. A smaller residential street, which is not a through road, might only require an annual inspection.

Therefore, the local authority might not be liable for an accident. If they can show that they carried out inspections and repairs within the permitted time scales, then the claim might not be viable.

What Happens If I Am Partially To Blame?

An argument that can be made by local authorities defending a case is that if the victim failed to spot an obvious defect, then they are partially to blame for the accident.

A personal injury lawyer and the defendant’s legal team might argue over who was to blame but, in the end, may agree that both parties were partially to blame. They would then apportion a percentage of blame to both parties i.e. 50% / 50% or 75% / 25%.

In these cases of ‘contributory negligence’ a claim is still possible, but compensation would be reduced accordingly. If for instance the victim of the accident agrees they are 50% to blame, they’d receive 50% of the normal compensation amounts.

You might feel like admitting partial liability is a bad thing, but it is better to receive some compensation rather than none. Your lawyer will be able to advise as to whether you should accept partial responsibility for an accident or not.

How Much Time Do I Have To Claim And How Long Could A Claim Take?

Under UK law, there is a personal injury claims time limit for all claims. This time limit is applied by law under the Limitation Act 1980. If you fail to start a claim on time, you won’t be eligible to receive compensation, even if your potential case had strong evidence to support it.

The table below details the current limits:

Claim Type Time Limit
Personal Injury Claims – Adult 3 years
Personal Injury Claims – Child under 18 3 years from the date of their 18th birthday

The amount of time a public highway accident claim needs to be resolved can vary and there is no typical average figure that can be given. However, more straightforward cases where the defendant admits liability early on may take roughly 6-12 months to conclude. More complex accidents or serious injury claims can take longer than this, potentially because both parties involved need more time to gather supporting evidence. Cases where the local authority deny liability will also take longer to process than those where liability is admitted straight away.

No Win No Fee Compensation Claims For An Accident On A Public Highway

You’ve probably heard of No Win No Fee accident claims through advertising or in the press. Here’s how No Win No Fee claims compare with claims where you pay the solicitor’s fees directly:

No Win No Fee Claims

When you contact a personal injury solicitor who offers a No Win No Fee service, you’ll begin by being offered a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA). This is in fact another name for No Win No Fee.

The CFA states that, it the case is lost, you don’t have to pay anything to the lawyer for their time or services. It also states a success fee that is payable should the case be won. In the past, your lawyer’s legal fees were paid for by the defendant, but this is no longer allowed.

The success fee is limited to 25% of any compensation awarded and is taken directly from the compensation, so you don’t actually have to send the solicitor any of your own funds.

Paying A Solicitor Directly

When you hire a solicitor directly to undertake your personal injury claim, they’ll tell you their hourly rate. They might also offer you a fixed fee for taking on your case. You’ll likely have to pay this up front or installments, but the case won’t proceed without payment.

If the solicitor wins your case, you will get 100% of any compensation awarded. However, if they lose the case, you won’t get any of your money back which means you might have paid a large legal bill for nothing.

Because of this risk, we recommend you use a No Win No Fee service to make any claim.

The work that is undertaken by both solicitors is just the same. They collate evidence prior to making a claim. Then they send the claim to the defendant and negotiate with the defendant’s insurers. Finally they help their client decide whether to accept an offer or not.

They will also represent their client in court, if the claim cannot be settled amicably. This is very rare as most cases are settled with the need for a court date.

How To Start Your Claim For An Accident On A Public Highway

To begin your own claim, you should begin by collating as much evidence as possible to support your claim. Things that you should try to prepare include:

  • Medical records: To support the fact you were injured and that show the extent of your injuries.
  • Accident reports: If you reported the accident to the council or road authority, ask them for a copy of the accident report or print any emails you sent to them.
  • Photographs: If you took photos at the scene of the accident or photos of your injuries, print them out.
  • Witness statements: Ask any witnesses who saw your accident happen to write down what they saw.
  • Your own statement: Write down what you remember happening at the time of the accident.
  • Contact a personal injury lawyer: As we’ve suggested throughout this guide, making a claim yourself will be tricky. A lawyer who specialises in accident claims is much more likely to get the correct level of compensation for you. This is especially true if they have to contest the case against a defendant’s legal team.

Some of the popular online claims specialists that you might want to try, include:

If you’d like to get in touch with us, you can contact us here.

Initial Consultation

All of these services offer a free consultation. This is where you provide them will all of details of your accident and injuries. They’ll assess the accident, how it was caused, who was responsible and how it impacted upon you.

As part of the consultation, you can provide your evidence and proof of financial impact upon you. The lawyer or advisor can then provide you with an estimate of how much compensation you could be entitled to.

If the claims specialist agree that you have a good chance of winning compensation, they’ll offer you a No Win No Fee agreement. You’re under no obligation to continue with them at this point. Therefore, take the time to read the CFA before signing it. When you’re happy they’ll start the claim for you.


Hopefully you’ve found some useful information in this guide about claiming compensation for an accident on a public highway. We’ve included some more guides below which you might find useful.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 – The legislation which provides all of the rules and regulation for road users and road maintenance.

Highways England – latest news from Highways England about consultations and planned roadworks.

Council Accident Claims – Information on how to make claims against councils.

Pothole Injury Claims – a more specific look at pothole injury claims for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

Can I Make A Work Van Accident Claim – If you were involved in a public highway accident involving a work van this guide will help you understand your next steps.

Other Personal Injury Claim Guides