Severe winter weather is being blamed for new figures revealing that Lancashire County Council has paid out more than £11million in compensation to people injured on roads and pavements in the past five years.
Between 2007/8 and 2010/11, the county council paid out compensation of £11.09m over 6,863 incidents.
The majority were as a result of personal injuries after incidents such as falls, trips and slips on the highways. Another 45 per cent of incidents accounts for damage to vehicles sustained on the roads and around five per cent was paid out following damage to property.
The official figures show just over a quarter of claims are settled with payouts. The amount of payouts has fallen in recent years.
Senior officers at County Hall said while all efforts were made to minimise the amounts paid out, factors such as bad winter weather meant incidents were sometimes unavoidable. But campaigners believe the figures are evidence of a rise in the “compensation culture.”
A report to councillors on the authority’s cabinet committee on performance improvement says: “The trend data indicates that there is an increase in incidents during winter months, which have been more prevalent in 2010 and 2011.”
It adds: “In recent months, the ‘one team’ approach to highway works has led to a consolidation of both highway maintenance management and operations within the Environment Directorate.”
The figures come a day after it was revealed that LCC paid out £1.3m in compensation to school staff last year.
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Sadly this rise in payouts is because of a growing compensation culture. The council needs to fight spurious claims to ensure value for taxpayers’ money. If county hall wants to reduce the number of claims and falls during the winter months then they should make sure the pavements are cleared and safe when it snows.”
Rick Hayton, assistant director for highways at LCC, said: “The report reflects that our experienced legal team successfully fight many claims which are unsubstantiated while providing fair compensation to genuine cases. We of course do our best to minimise the amount we pay out, and changes being made at the moment to the way highways are managed...may give us the opportunity to improve in this area.
“But the number of claims we receive is also partly due to factors we can’t control, such as bad winters which result in more accidents, and the growth of the part of the legal services industry which encourages people to make personal injury claims.”