Murray v Nicholls: 1983

A car was driven without stopping out of a side street colliding with another car. One driver was killed and his passengers were injured. They sued the driver’s widow and Strathclyde Regional Council as roads authority. It was averred that, some considerable time before the accident, Strathclyde had caused white lines to be painted at the junction, indicating that priority should be given to traffic in Victoria Place. But the lines had been all but obliterated as a result of road works some months before the accident and they had not been repainted. There were no signs at the junction. The pursuers averred that Strathclyde were in breach of their duty to take reasonable care that roads in their area were maintained in such a condition that persons using them could do so in safety. They had failed to have the lines repainted as soon as was reasonably practicable after the works were completed and they had failed to erect and maintain warning signs.
Held: The pursuers’ averments directed against Strathclyde were irrelevant and so the action against them was dismissed. The previous existence of the white lines at the junction was sufficient to show that it was reasonably foreseeable that, in the absence of such an indication, a vehicle might be driven into Victoria Place without stopping. ‘But while foreseeability is no doubt necessary to found a duty it does not follow from the mere fact of foreseeability that a duty will necessarily arise. No case was cited to me in which a road authority has been held to be at fault merely by reason of failure to mark white lines on the roadway or erect a warning sign at a road junction in a built-up area. The only authority referred to by counsel for the pursuers was Bird v Pearce where the point was expressly reserved. The ratio of the decision whereby the road authority was found to be at fault was that by markings on the road they had created a pattern of traffic flow on which drivers could expect to rely and that the obliteration of the markings caused something of the nature of a trap of which the defendants ought to have given warning. In the present case there is no averment to suggest that either driver was influenced by the existence of the markings at an earlier date. What is said is that because of houses and walls adjacent to the road, those driving northwards towards the junction would have no visibility to the east until they actually reached it, but that is no more than the normal state of affairs in a built-up area. The fact that white lines had been put there before while relevant to the question of foreseeability has no bearing otherwise on the existence of a duty. If the pursuers’ contention were accepted it would open up a wide field for actions against road authorities. It would seem, for instance, to follow that the pedestrian run down when crossing a busy thoroughfare would be entitled to say that his injuries were caused by the failure of the authority to set the machinery in motion for the provision of a pedestrian crossing. If such duties are to be imposed on road authorities, that should in my opinion be done by Parliament and not by courts of law, and in the absence of authority I am not prepared to hold that the power given to a local authority to mark white lines on the roadway and erect warning signs implies a duty to do so at every crossing in a built-up area where there is a considerable volume of traffic.’
1983 SLT 194
Cited by:
CitedGorringe v Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council HL 1-Apr-2004
Statutory Duty Not Extended by Common Law
The claimant sought damages after a road accident. The driver came over the crest of a hill and hit a bus. The road was not marked with any warning as to the need to slow down.
Held: The claim failed. The duty could not be extended to include . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 23 October 2021; Ref: scu.195694