A couple who were refused compensation from a council after their car was damaged by a dangerous pothole took the local authority to court and won.
Jane Tramontana and her husband Phillip Charles, from Great Bowden Road, Market Harborough, refused to take Northamptonshire County Council’s response lying down and decided to fight the decision through the courts.
And after winning the year-long battle last month, the couple are now calling on the council to change its policies on fixing road defects which they say are putting lives at risk.
They also say the handling of their case highlights how claims firms use a standardised approach designed to make claimants give up.
The council promises to fix dangerous potholes within five days of inspection once problems have been being reported through its Street Doctor service.
This five-day period was introduced in 2010 to replace a policy of two-day of 24-hour repairs for “critical” problems.
In reality, it can take up to ten days by the time inspections have taken place.
The couple said the previously-inspected pothole was so dangerous that it should have been fixed on the same day.
District Judge Sarah Watson, sitting at Northampton County Court on January 16, ruled in favour of Jane, who was driving at the time, and said there are clear problems with the way the council deals with dangerous potholes.
The couple were awarded £311 compensation but more importantly, they say a principle has been upheld and justice done.
In a letter to the council’s highways department, the couple are calling for several key changes.
Phillip said their case highlights significant concerns.
He said: “The council needs to review its 2010 policy whereby defects that were previously considered to be real safety issues requiring a two-hour or 24-hour response suddenly became ‘non-critical’ issues requiring only a five-day response.
“The results and consequences of this change must have been perfectly clear to the council at the time.”
They also say the Street Doctor website needs to give clearer instructions about how to report dangerous potholes as emergencies so they get priority treatment.
Jane was driving along the B664 in Sutton Bassett on January 31 last year when she hit the pothole, which was mid-bend in the road. Her front nearside wheel and rear nearside wheel were damaged.
She said: “Sutton Bassett was strewn with stationary vehicles on a wet, dark winter’s evening.”
The police were called out to prevent further accidents and about ten other vehicles hit the same hole in a 30-minute span, some blowing their tyres out.
Jane told the court: “The facts in this case were very clear and yet I was subject to a year-long process that I believe has probably become standard practice in situations like mine.
“The council immediately passed my claim to [claims management firm] Gallagher Bassett who then went through a protracted process of firstly denying all knowledge of the defects, presenting incorrect record data and finally refusing liability and forcing a court case.
“This is unacceptable and unreasonable behaviour.”
She added: “This defect was, without any doubt, a serious road hazard and should have been repaired immediately following inspection given its size, and location.
“It should have been evident it would be a danger to cyclists, motorcyclists, vehicles and their passengers and cause significant danger, damage and cost to vehicle owners.”
The Mail understands that following the court ruling, at least one other driver has already applied to the council for compensation and been successful.
The Mail sent a list of the couple’s concerns to the council to give them right of reply but it declined to comment specifically.
It said: “We have acknowledged receipt of this letter and will be replying in full once we have considered all the findings of this case.”
Over the border, Leicestershire County Council categorises highway defects as urgent or non-urgent and aims to repair urgent potholes within three working days.