Inquest highlights pothole risks to riders

inquest bridge roadworks pothole

An inquest into the death of a rider who hit a pothole on a newly opened bridge is expected to highlight the risk for motorcyclists of poor road design and poor maintenance.

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 pothole was one of several that developed shortly after the new bridge was commissioned and that workers fixed the pothole after the crash.

James and Melissa pothole inquest
James and Melissa

Police do not believe James, who was an experienced rider, was at fault or speeding.

The bridge had only been open three weeks and had already received complaints about the road surface.

The inquest is being held at Goulburn court house before Deputy State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan on November 30 and December 1. Ms Pearce is funding her own court costs and council staff men bars are being funded by council.

Melissa says her legal team believe council will be held accountable.

(Watch the following video to the end to see how big the pothole was.)

“It won’t change anything for me but I hope we get some recommendations that help highlight the risk for motorcyclists of poor road design and especially poor maintenance,” she says.

“I hope to get answers on what happened and why, so I can come to terms with it and it doesn’t happen again. I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through what I have.”

She says the coroner will look at the actions of the council in roadworks, design and maintenance.

James and Melissa potholes
James and Melissa in happier times

“It is very clear that the council were aware of the pothole and problems with the design of the road (camber etc) and that they used the wrong road surfacing (two-coat bitumen instead of asphalt),” she says.

“I really hope that the inquest will help to lead the way for change when it comes to councils and how they deal with road maintenance. There has to be more accountability. If this can help to raise the profile of the impact of poor road maintenance and accountability of councils to ensure timely attention to road surface damage, and if it helps to prevent even one death then it will be worth the fight. 

“The coroner has identified the issue as there being a pothole which the council knew about but failed to repair. So she is going to be looking hard at their processes and whether their response to the knowledge of the pothole was appropriate or timely enough. From the many statements from witnesses and police investigation etc, there is no doubt he hit the pothole.

“And there is no question that they knew about it for some weeks beforehand.” 

James was an experienced rider potholes
James was an experienced rider

Melissa has also asked her barrister to raise the issue of the type of barrier used.

“I have also asked them to examine what risk assessment is used for vulnerable users such as motorcyclists as the risk is so much higher than for other road users,” she says.

This is yet another sad case of riders coming to grief in potholes or roadworks here and around the world that we have documented in MotorBikeWriter.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers principal Malcolm Cummings says authorities and roadworks contractors have an obligation to provide safe roads.

“There is a general duty at common law to ensure that work that has been performed doesn’t put riders in a situation of danger,” says Malcolm.

“As a general principle where negligent road works or maintenance results in damage or injury there has been a breach of common law.”

3 Comments

  1. Shit this is unreal.
    I feel for the family and members.
    I have reported similar incidents of road conditions (pot holes,break ups,humps) have had one fixed after two emails and phone calls.
    If you hit it (that one that took 1 week to fix after i reported it ) you would be airborne, the hump was the width of the west bound lane on the Mid Western Highway about 27 k’s East from Cowra.
    I have reported the “Belubula way” between Mandurama and Walli rd at the same time and nothing has been done yet.They have to sort out who/which local Council looks after the road maintenance (shit get rid of the States(NSW) and let local Councils look after local areas, I believe there has been one motorcycle fatality on the Belubula Way after i reported it to the authorities.(as it is a popular road for motorcyclists to take).
    So here i go again reporting roads that are utter crap in road surface (a motorcross bike) would suit it better!
    We all pay a premium to use the roads (rego,insurance,petrol tax etc) and what do we get a dirt road graded sort of level, some tar is sprayed on the dirt then they throw bluestone on the wet tar and thats it (you lucky if you get hotmix for a surface). The road breaks up with the next rain fall.
    Shit the Romans could build better roads than our over paid so called engineers.
    Australia is f***ed with third, no fourth rate roads no wonder I enjoy riding in the US of A.
    I am 67 years of age and am sick of the buck passing of authorities.
    Look this up, Julia Gillard when PM gave 300 million dollars of Australian monies (did not ask us if it was ok!) to the Clinton foundation for education, WTF!!!!! HUH! what about the Australian people Julia!!!!!!!(all politicians are leaches of society (except Peter Andrum, RIP, from Orange)
    Castro just died! we need another Castro type for Australia.
    Goto go I am getting too cranky
    where’s my meds ah Jack Daniels there you are.
    Take care out there and bloody wave back to me when i wave.

  2. My sympathy to all of James’ family. I understand the need for an inquest into James’ unfortunate death and it is important but how could such a new piece of infrastructure such as this bridge be able to fall into a state of disrepair so bad and so soon after its commissioning where it could cause the death of someone! Does it really require an inquest to get the responsible authorities focused to carry out regular inspections and repairs that any Blind Freddy can see need attention and that regular and timely road maintenance is important. I am tired of the way that roads are built and poorly maintained and the patchwork quilt of that we end up with and call it a road ‘surface’. Where is the ‘after sales’ service and maintenance by the constructor of the bridge and are they going to be called to account for public infrastructure falling apart 3 weeks after completion!?

  3. Sorry to hear of this.
    Another serious road surface problem is in roadworks areas. I am currently living in Sydney and the areas around the westconnex works are often quite dangerous. Plates on the surface at poor angles and deep ruts can make navigating the road pretty unpleasant. Granted that around the city it’s rare to be doing speeds that cause great problems but particularly at night or in wet conditons it’s hard to see and particularly dangerous given the trafic conditions.

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