Burnside v Emerson: CA 1968

A car crashed as a result of running into a pool of storm-water lying across the road. The pool had been caused by the authority’s failure properly to maintain the drainage system, which had become blocked.
Held: The claim succeeded. Diplock LJ described the statutory obligation of a highway authority to maintain the highway as being: ‘The duty of maintenance of a highway which was, by section 38(1) of the Highways Act, 1959, removed from the inhabitants at large of any area, and by section 44(1) of the same Act was placed on the highway authority, is a duty not merely to keep a highway in such a state of repair as it is at any particular time, but to put it in such good repair as renders it reasonably passable for the ordinary traffic of the neighbourhood at all seasons of the year without danger caused by its physical condition. I take most of those words from the summing-up of Blackburn J. in a case in 1859, Reg. v. Inhabitants of High Halden.’ Non-repair’ has the converse meaning. Repair and maintenance thus include providing an adequate system of drainage for the road; and it was in this respect that the judge found that the highway authority in this case had failed in their duty to maintain the highway.’
Lord Denning MR, after stating that the plaintiff had to prove that the road was dangerous to traffic, said: ‘Second: The plaintiff must prove that the dangerous condition was due to a failure to maintain, which includes a failure to repair the highway. In this regard, a distinction is to be drawn between a permanent danger due to want of repair, and a transient danger due to the elements. When there are potholes or ruts in a classified road which have continued for a long time unrepaired, it may be inferred that there has been a failure to maintain. When there is a transient danger due to the elements, be it snow or ice or heavy rain, the existence of danger for a short time is no evidence of a failure to maintain.
Diplock LJ, Lord Denning MR
[1968] 1 WLR 1490, [1967] 1 QB 374
Highways Act 1959 44(1)
England and Wales
CitedBurgess v Northwich Local Board 1880
In the context of the duty of a local parish to maintain a highway, Lindley J said: ‘An occasional flooding, even if it temporarily renders a highway impassable, is not sufficient to sustain an indictment for non-repair.’
Counsel accepted . .

Cited by:
CitedWest Sussex County Council v Russell CA 12-Feb-2010
The council appealed against a finding that it had failed in its duty to keep the highway safe leading to an accident in which the claimant was severely injured. The road was narrow, and a significant drop had developed by the edge of the road. The . .
CitedKind v Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Council Admn 31-Jul-2001
The appellant complained that the local council had failed to maintain a highway. The road was a single track rural highway. The Crown Court allowed for the present-day character of the highway, and the appellant objected. The complainant sought to . .
CitedHerrick and Another v Kidner and Another Admn 17-Feb-2010
Psychological Obstruction to Public Footpath
A public footpath crossed the appellants’ land. They constructed a gateway across it which they now accepted had been a significant obstruction of the right of way. The local authority served a notice requiring its removal, including the stone . .
CitedPritchard v Clwyd County Council CA 16-Jun-1992
The plaintiff was injured wading through a flooded street. She claimed damages alleging a failure to maintain the storm water sewers. The defendants appealed a finding that they were responsible, and she appealed a contributory negligence . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 10 October 2021; Ref: scu.396762