Are councils responsible for accidents if hedges aren't cut?

Mark Cummings

A new case suggests that councils cannot be sued if an accident is caused by an overgrown hedge or verge.

In the recently decided case of Sumner v Colborne & Others, the Court found that the Council and Highways Authority did not owe users of the highway a duty of care in relation to overhanging vegetation on hedges and verges, which had affected road users' visibility at a junction.

Perhaps rather surprisingly, the Court said, that it would not be just, fair or reasonable to find that such a duty existed. In particular, the Court took the view that to extend the duty of care would encourage motor insurers to seek recovery of their losses from adjacent land owners, where visibility was found to be an issue.

The decision could be important, not just for public bodies, but also for owners of land adjacent to the highway.

Mark Cummings, Partner at Samuels Solicitors LLP said: "It seems counter-intuitive that a public body which owns land next to the highway, should not be held responsible for cutting back vegetation which obscures the highway. However, it is likely that the Court made this decision to prevent opening the floodgates on claims from people who may have had accidents or damage caused to their vehicles, by overhanging vegetation."

It is possible that the principles in the Sumner case may extend to other issues such as the erection of buildings and other structures which may impact on highway visibility, but this yet to be tested.

Whilst you may not be able to bring a claim against the local authority or highways authority in relation to vegetation overhanging a road, if vegetation from a neighbour's land encroaches on to yours, you may be able to take action. 

At Samuels Solicitors LLP, we have a wealth of experience in assisting clients with boundary and neighbour disputes

If you have an issue with a neighbour, contact us today to find out what action you can take.