Vehicle Damage Claims

Oral Answers to Questions — Infrastructure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 16 April 2024.

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Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP 2:00, 16 April 2024

1. Mr Butler asked the Minister for Infrastructure to outline how many vehicle damage claims due to road defects have been made to the Department in the past year. (AQO 279/22-27)

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his question. During the financial year from 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024, my Department received 4,878 roads-related vehicle damage claims. I should explain, however, that, although my Department has a statutory duty under article 8 of the Roads Order 1993 to maintain public roads, there is no automatic entitlement to compensation. My Department investigates and defends public liability claims, with every case turning on its own facts. In cases in which officials believe that the Department can raise a legal defence, claims will be defended. Since April 2019, there has been an upward trend in the number of roads-related public liability claims received by my Department. During the financial year from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023, 3,599 roads-related claims were received for property damage, personal injury and vehicle damage, whereas, during the financial year from 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024, 5,643 claims were received.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

I thank the Minister for his detailed answer. I am sure that he will agree that there is a worrying trend. Does he agree that the issue is not just road deterioration? Perhaps he can update us on his work to look at the quality of repairs, which do not seem to last these days. My inbox is receiving more and more worries in that regard.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Repairs are inspected, although, due to resource implications, not all of them are; I think that around 5% of them are inspected. There are two phases to repairs at the moment. Once a pothole or fault is reported to my Department, particularly through the weblink, it is allocated to a private contractor, which then takes liability for that damage. The contractor then carries out an immediate repair — a quick fix. It then has to return and carry out a full repair to that pothole to ensure that the work meets the standards of my Department. I am aware of concerns that have been raised by Members and by members of the public about the state of some repairs. It is an issue that I am discussing with my officials.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

The Minister recently provided evidence about private investigators investigating certain incidents. What is the exact extent of the work of those private investigators? Is it in relation to personal injury or vehicle damage? When does his Department employ those people?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

It is personal injury claims, and it is usually where a higher claim is involved. It is done only on the basis of legal advice; it is not done in every case. I have no role in it. It is down to legal advice, and officials take on board that legal advice when deciding whether a private investigator is required as they prepare a defence to a claim.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I bring the Minister back to a pothole that has been raised in the Chamber before: the notorious Northland Road "crater" pothole, which caused damage to a significant number of vehicles. Owners of those damaged vehicles are now being passed from pillar to post between DFI and Northern Ireland Water. If I follow this up with written correspondence to the Minister, will he look at the case so that those motorists are not penalised due to the lack of responsibility being taken by any Department?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I am more than happy for the Member to write to me about that case. I will ask my officials to look into it to make sure that proper procedures are being followed.