Mud on the roads can leave farmers in legal mire
Road users in Britain are now dealing with the seasonally increased hazards encountered on the roads at autumn.
Organisations which look after road users are issuing warnings for people to be aware of the risks of skidding caused by the leaf fall, mud and other materials deposited on the surface on the highway which are worsened by rain and eventually ice.
Added to this there is the dazzle caused by the low sun. This can be exacerbated by dirty windscreens and vehicle lights being obscured my mud. Burst tyres and the wrong tyre pressures are likely to become more prevalent in the wet and cold.
It is not surprising that the chances of road accidents are higher where there is mud on the road brought about by farm machinery or other commercial vehicles, heavy plant and equipment. The Police and Local Authorities have the ability to prosecute parties responsible for depositing mud on the roads. These offences can give rise to serious criminal penalties. Should a local authority have to clear up the mud, it can recharge the cost to the farmer.
Additionally if there is an accident and a criminal case is successfully pursued by the police this can be a serious problem for the farmer in the case of civil law and insurance. If the criminal charge is proven then it will be proof for a claim of negligence for the injured party in the case of a linked accident. The proven negligence may be a problem with the farmer's insurance unless it can be shown the farmer took prudent steps to minimise the risk.
Steps to try and minimise the risk include trying to avoid road usage when the mud is at its worst and trying to use the smaller less busy roads which are less busy.
Where the harvest is pushed back by consistent bad weather the farmers' options are inevitably restricted to getting the crop out of the ground as soon as reasonably feasible. However vehicles can be driven more slowly and in good circumstances farmers may be able to wash the tyres of the vehicles down before they go onto the road and clear the road or brush it to some extent following using a gateway, and so on.
It may be appropriate to use appropriate warning signage in certain cases with prior consultation with the local authority or highway authority. It is advisable for farmers to keep a written record of what they have done to minimise the risk with photographic evidence. In some cases it will be the case that accidents are more to do with the speed and condition of the vehicle skidding on the mud.
If farmers employ contractors then they need to know that the contractors are operating good procedures and it is often better to have a written agreement to confirm this.
Steven Corfield is a Partner and agricultural specialist at Shropshire law firm, FBC Manby Bowdler LLP.