CAR ACCIDENT: “IT WASN’T MY FAULT, SO WHY AM I LIABLE?”

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If my car is rear-ended in a chain collision, how can it be my fault?  If I hit a car that pulls out in front of me when they were supposed to give way isn’t it their fault?  The question of who is responsible for a car accident is not always straightforward.  This was shown in a recent case involving a woman who claimed damages for personal injuries after her car was rear-ended but lost her case in court.

Background

The woman turned right out of a supermarket carpark and onto Henley Beach Road in the Adelaide suburb of Fulham. As she was turning right, she failed to give way to oncoming traffic. Then:

  • The driver of a Toyota Corolla swerved left out of the lane to avoid hitting the woman’s Holden Commodore.
  • Because of other cars in the left lane, the Corolla driver had to move back into the right lane in front of the woman’s Commodore.
  • The driver behind the Corolla, who was driving a Nissan Pulsar, sounded his horn. The woman looked at him and waved her hand in the air … and drove into the back of the Corolla.
  • The driver of the Pulsar braked, but hit the back of the woman’s Commodore.

The woman claimed that she was injured in the car accident and made a $25,000 claim in the Magistrates Court.

The Magistrate found that the woman was responsible for all three collisions and so her claim was dismissed.

What happened next?

The woman was unhappy with the Magistrate’s decision and made an application for the decision to be reviewed by the District Court, which is higher than the Magistrates Court.

The District Court said that there was no dispute that the woman had been negligent in causing the collisions by ‘barging’ into the lane. But the man who hit her had wrongly assumed that she would not try to force her way into oncoming traffic.  He should have tried to avoid a car accident and honking his horn wasn’t sufficient.

The Court commented that just because a driver breaches a traffic law such as failing to give way, that is not the ‘be all and end all’ of the case.  It does not allow the other driver who has the right of way to ‘carry on regardless’ and they are still duty bound to exercise reasonable care to avoid a car accident.

In this case the Court found that:

  • The man should not have assumed that the woman would give way.
  • He had enough time to brake to avoid the collision.
  • He had failed to exercise reasonable care by not driving defensively to try and avoid the accident.

The Court decided that the woman was 65 percent responsible for the accident and the man was 35 percent responsible.

What does it mean?

Cases of this type are not usually black and white. It wasn’t simply an issue of whether the woman failed to give way. Even if a driver has done the wrong thing, other drivers must do everything they can to avoid a collision whether or not they have the right of way. If they don’t, they may be found to be at least partially liable for any collision.  This is a legal concept known as “contributory negligence.”

The aftermath of motor vehicle accidents can be very difficult to navigate and understand.  Not only must you deal with insurers, but it’s also really important to understand your rights and obligations. Whether you’ve been the victim of a motor vehicle accident or you may have caused one, Websters Lawyers can help you.

With a team of dedicated personal injury and motor vehicle accident lawyers, we have the knowledge and experience to assist you. Contact ustoday for a free first interview.

Aslanidis v Mattiazzo [2017] SADC 1 (23 December 2016)

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