SANRAL or Municipalities Liable for Accidents Caused by Potholes in South Africa

Pothole accident claims on the rise

The South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL), or the responsible municipality or other local authority, may be held liable for road accidents caused by potholes in South Africa. Alarmingly, it’s estimated that South Africa has upwards of 25 million potholes.

This is according to Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys, who says that the deteriorating condition of roads across the country is a growing cause of road accidents. “As well as damaging vehicles, these accidents can result in serious injuries and deaths,” she says.

Unfortunately, she says that the situation is worsening. In 2017, there were an estimated 15 million potholes. According to SANRAL, there are now more than 25 million. The cause is simple – inadequate road maintenance.

Statistics on South Africa’s road-maintenance backlog explain the state of our roads. Speaking at a road construction indaba in 2022, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said that roughly 40% of provincial roads and 80% of South Africa’s national roads are ‘at the end of their design life’.

It’s estimated that South Africa now needs upwards of R200 billion to fund road maintenance, yet Government spending on roads is actually decreasing, according to data published by Statistics South Africa in October 2020.

Inevitably, Haslam says that as the number of potholes on South African roads has risen, so has the number of pothole-related accident claims.

Haslam says that anyone who has driven through a pothole knows how easily it can cause an accident that might result in serious injuries. “In the case of large potholes, impact with the road alone may be enough to cause serious injury,” she explains.

She points out that serious accidents caused by potholes can happen when:

  • a vehicle swerves into on-coming traffic.
  • a vehicle swerves and hits a cyclist, pedestrian, or obstacle.
  • a tyre blows out.
  • a driver slams on the brakes quickly after spotting a pothole.
  • a vehicle malfunctions after hitting a pothole.

“When you’re injured in a road accident or your car is damaged, you may be able to claim damages from the authority responsible for the maintenance of the road,” she explains.

She adds: “If the accident occurs on a national road, a claim may possibly be made against the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL). For damages sustained in an accident on a municipal road, the relevant local municipality or department of public works may be liable.”

If you’re physically injured in a road accident caused by a pothole, and the accident is also partly attributable to driver negligence which is not your own (such as when you are traveling as a passenger), Haslam says that you may be able to make a claim for compensation from the Road Accident Fund.

However, she says that the success of a claim for damages sustained in an accident caused by potholes depends on a number of factors.

“Your legal team will need to supply proof of negligence. This could be a photograph of the pothole that caused the accident or evidence that the pothole was previously reported to authorities and not repaired. When this is the case, the state authority is more likely to be judged negligent and therefore liable.”

For a claim to be successful, Haslam says that you’ll also need to supply further supporting evidence, such as medical reports and bills, contact details of any witnesses, and a police report.

“If you or your child suffered an injury during a road accident caused by potholes, it’s important to consult a suitably experienced attorney who specialises in personal injury claims and work on a no-win, no-fee basis,” she advises. “They can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve.”