Councils not required to address potholes

Inquest pothole james Hughes Melissa Pearce councils

An inquest into the death of a motorcyclist who hit a pothole on a new bridge has issued no findings of fault, nor made recommendations for councils to promptly fix road defects.

James Hughes, 50, died when his Ducati 900S hit a massive pothole at the Oallen Ford Bridge near Goulburn in NSW on October 4, 2015. His bike veered and struck a railing, and he fell five metres to his death on the river bank below.

His partner Melissa Pearce says the inquest will not bring back her beloved partner, but she did expect some recommendations about the onus for councils to quickly address road problems.

Disappointing outcome

“I’m pretty disappointed,” she says.

“Goulburn has made a lot of changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but I was hoping for more recommendations of widespread changes so other councils can learn form it.

“The biggest tragedy is if the same thing happened to another rider in another area.”

Melissa plans to write to the Ministers for local councils and roads to commit to systemic changes to be made.

James and Melissa pothole inquest councils
James and Melissa

The inquest was held at Goulburn court house before Deputy State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan last year and the findings were released today (February 21, 2017).

It simply found that James died at the scene from his injuries after hitting the pothole.

While making no recommendations of changes to the reporting of dangerous road damage by councils, the Coroner’s report does note that the Goulburn Mulwaree Council accepted it had errors in its system for recording complaints about roads and its system for prioritising maintenance.

Systemic changes

Council has since made several changes to its reporting system and internal structure to ensure potholes and other road damage are given a higher priority.

The bridge was opened on September 10, 2015, and an inspector first highlighted issues to the approaches only five days later.

Repairs were done the next day, but it was noted they would not hold.

There followed a bizarre sequence of reports by residents of dangerous potholes on the new bridge and key council staff being on leave and therefore not able to follow through with repairs.

Council acknowledged it had failed to identify the dangers or delegate work.inquest bridge roadworks pothole councils

“This demonstrates a systemic breakdown in Council’s communication system and the Council’s higher duty delegating system,” the Coroner’s report says.

Less than three weeks after the bridge opened James sadly crashed and died.

The road was repaired five days later.

James absolved of blame

While the Coroner concedes that the death occurred because of the pothole and that there were many people too blame for the incident, it found no blame on the rider.

The testimony of eyewitness Brendan Lindsay was accepted that James was only riding at 40-50km/h and slowing down when he hit the pothole.

“Mr Lindsay states that Mr Hughes braced himself against the handlebars just before the bike hit the pothole and he was thrown forwards when the rear wheel hit the pothole,” the report states.

“The bike began to wobble and hit the barriers on the left hand side of the bridge. Mr Hughes was thrown off his motorbike and over the edge of the bridge.”

Melissa says it was reassuring to know that James could not avoid the pothole and wasn’t riding in a manner that was unsafe.

Click here for the full Coroner’s Report.

12 Comments

  1. I fix potholes on my street all the time. The city takes ages to address it and a systematic change is definitely what needs to happen.

  2. Absolute dereliction of duty. So what is the formula here? Wait until someone is killed as a result of poor road construction/maintenance then take FIVE days to fix the problem. If I was the Coroner I would be charging the relevant authority with establishing some facts. Was the road constructed to comply with the appropriate standard and does this standard take into account regular heavy vehicle traffic? Are heavy vehicles that are overloaded using this road? (But perhaps all Coroners do is report the bare minimum) This sort of damage, I would suggest, does not occur as a result of “normal wear and tear.”

    I wonder if pursuing a civil case against the council would be successful, perhaps there are legal firms who would take on this case on a “no win- no fee” basis?

  3. Hi it is noted that i reported dangerous road conditions re the Belubula Way between Mandurama and Canowindra it took a second email from me to one of the councils with the hi lighted words “DUTY OF CARE” to get action.
    The council officer first email said, i drove the road it’s ok! in other words he did not drive the road in question at all.
    As he would have seen the condition.
    Too busy drinking coffee and eating donuts.
    He got his secretary to phone as he was too embarrassed re the reply.
    We pay their wages with rates they are public servants.

  4. Totally agree with pete, it has the appearance of the coroner protecting all councils from being sued. I also note that when the police called the GMC they were promptly responded to and a crew sent to fix the road. What was this secret number and why is the public forced to send only email outside working hours?

  5. Clearly there was a major non compliance in the road works for a pothole to appear so soon after construction. As an experienced quality manager in civil infrastructure o would be looking for compaction records, mix test results etc on the road surface. Then I’d be looking g at drainage design to see if it all met code and if the bridge should have even been open.

  6. There was a guy who was charged with theft of a barrow of gravel when he took it from a council depot to repair a pot hole that had been reported and gone unfixed for months. burocratic arrogance and incompetents knows no limits.

  7. if this had been a private worksite. WHS would have been all over it. In fact if my driveway was like this and someone was injured i would be sued. So its a case of we’ll bleed you dry in taxes and rates…. No care or responsibility taken. What happened to duty of care?, if they where unable to repair it they should have closed it

  8. So what happens then? Is a pothole left in the road until “somebody gets around to fixing it”? These things are extremely dangerous to all road users, but especially motorcyclists. A man is dead for god’s sake! They need to addressed with a sense of urgency. This inquest demonstrates indifference and ineptitude at all levels – including the coroner. Typical second-rate politicians, bureaucrats and judiciary that we’ve come to expect!

  9. Did Deputy State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan ask “How does a 5 week old bridge surface get that bad that fast”? Or even ask (perhaps a little sarcastically) “Do all new bridges do this”? Shame! Shame! Shame!
    Follow the money. If nobody is found at fault, nobody can be sued for compensation.

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