More riders could claim compensation from local councils who fail to maintain bridleways following a landmark case in Cheshire.
Gaynor Goodall has won £12,000 damages from Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council after being thrown off her horse on a bridleway near Stalybridge.
Tameside County Court ruled on 1 February that the council had been negligent after it failed to repair the bridleway that had deteriorated and become dangerous to riders.
Mrs Goodall’s solicitor, Inderjit Gill from Jacksons specialist equine solicitors, said the case sets a precedent.
“Local authorities are obliged to maintain bridleways as part of their remit or may suffer further legal cases,” he explained.
“Tameside Council’s defence was purely that they couldn’t afford to maintain the bridleway because of the recession. We weren’t saying the condition of the bridleway should be improved, just kept in a reasonable state, which it obviously wasn’t.”
Mrs Goodall, 42, was riding with her eight-year-old daughter along the Gallows Clough bridleway, near Stalybridge in the foothills of the Pennines, on 7 July 2007, when her horse fell, throwing her off.
She told H&H: “My horse stumbled on some boulders that had been swept down the hillside by the rain and went straight down on his face. My arm literally snapped in two.
“I was in hospital for two weeks and then had to go back six months later for a bone graft, as it hadn’t healed. I took legal action to get something done about the bridleway.”
Tony Turner, founder of Tameside Bridleways Association, part of the West Pennine Bridleways Association, supported Mrs Goodall’s claim in court.
“This is a beautiful route and a fabulous ride, but it is in very poor condition and has been for many years,” he said.
“Most of the length of the bridleway is dangerous — it was just a matter of time before someone got seriously injured. Now maybe the council will start to work with us.”
The judge found that the local authority had failed in its duty to inspect and maintain the bridleway under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980.
British Horse Society director of access Mark Weston commented: “It’s especially important that bridleways are maintained so riders are not forced onto the roads. Hopefully this case will alert authorities to carry out essential repairs to the public rights of way networks.”
Tameside Council declined to comment.
This article was first published in Horse & Hound (1 April, ’10)