Court of Appeal decision on duty of care in respect of land adjoining a highway

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The Court of Appeal that a highway authority owed no duty of care to users of a highway in respect of overgrown vegetation on land adjacent to the highway, which affected visibility at a junction.

The Court of Appeal (CA) has ruled in Sumner v Colborne and others that a highway authority owed no duty of care to users of a highway in respect of overgrown vegetation on land adjacent to the highway, which affected visibility at a junction. Following an accident at the junction in which a car hit a cyclist, the driver of the car claimed that the highway authority should be held liable for negligence and/or breach of statutory duty for failing to maintain the vegetation. 

The CA held that while the highway authority held a duty of care to users of the highway in respect of dangers actually on the highway, no such duty was owed in respect of the creation of dangers on land next to the highway. Imposing such a duty would place too great a burden on highway authorities and would run counter to the policy that motorists must take the highway as they find it. 

While the CA decision related to a claim against a public authority, the CA confirmed that individual landowners of land next to a highway do not owe this type of duty of care to users of the highway either. The CA believed that if a duty of care were found on the facts of this case, then it could encourage unacceptable litigation and contribution claims against land owners adjacent to highways.

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