This was the question that arose in the Court of Appeal case of Sumner v Colborne and others.
It started with a daytime road traffic accident at a junction where the claimant, Roy Sumner was cycling along a main road when he was in collision with a motor car driven by the defendant, Michael Colborne, as it emerged from a minor road. Sumner sustained serious injuries and brought proceedings against Colborne on the grounds of negligence. Colborne denied liability and argued contributory negligence.
In addition, Colborne argued that his visibility at the junction was impacted by the existence of vegetation to his right. He referred particularly to a fenced-off parcel of land on the border of the main road and the minor road at the junction.
Sharing the blame
Colborne initially applied to court to add the Denbighshire County Council (the Council) and the Welsh Ministers to the claim on the basis that they were the highways authorities for the main and minor road in question. The Welsh Ministers also owned the parcel of land that Colborne referred to in his defence. This claim was struck out and judgement was given in their favour.
Colborne appealed this decision to the Court of Appeal. The main issue on appeal was whether the Council and the Welsh Ministers owed users of the highway a duty of care in respect of vegetation on the land at the junction (i.e. vegetation not itself on or over the highway) that impaired visibility for users of the highway.
A secondary issue is whether the judge should have found there to be real prospect of the defendant establishing at trial that a small amount of vegetation on or over the highway itself was causative of the accident.
On the main issue the Judges found that the Council and Welsh Ministers were under no relevant duty of care and that is would be not be just, fair and reasonable to find a duty of care in circumstances of the kind found in this case. The principle of liability for negligently creating a danger to users of the highway related only to dangers actually on the highway, and not to the creation of dangers on land next to the highway.
In relation to the secondary issue, the Judges found on the basis of the evidence presented, that there was no real prospect of Colborne establishing at trial that the vegetation on or over the highway, as distinct from the vegetation on the land by the junction, was causative of the accident.
The claim of negligence between the parties is still to be determined by another court. Several questions will be addressed then including, the cyclist's speed and position on the main road and at what point it was reasonable for the defendant (Colborne) to look to the right.
Although this matter involved the public authorities, it does confirm the principle that land owners next to a highway do not owe a duty of care to highway users in respect of vegetation that might affect visibility on the highway.