By Roy Bregman
Bregman Moodley Attorneys
What are your duties after a crash? What are your rights if you are injured or your car is damaged?
Y0UR RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS AFTER A COLLISION
If you are involved in involved in or contribute to an accident on a public road in which another person is killed or injured or suffers damages in respect of any property or animal, in terms of the Road Traffic Ordinances there are clear duties imposed on you. Here is what you should do:
- Stop your vehicle immediately. Of course, you do not need to stop at an accident if, for example, you hit a tree and only damage your own car or injure yourself. There is a legal and, indeed, a moral obligation on you to report a collision to your nearest police station if you hit a lamp standard or say a stationary vehicle and the accident is not witnessed.
- Check the nature and extent of any injury to another person.
- If the person has been hurt, do all you can to help by administering first aid, (if you know how), summons the police and, if necessary, an ambulance. If you know nothing about first aid, please do not try to render assistance as this may do more harm than good!
- Determine the nature and extent of any damage suffered.
- If you are required to do so by any person entitled to such information, provide and obtain the following information:
- name, address and telephone number of both drivers name, address and telephone number of the owners of the vehicles
- registration numbers of both vehicles
- names of the driver’sowner’s insurance companyinsurance broker
- full details of the place and time of the collision and the road conditions and visibility at the time
- make a short note (to jog your memory) of what you recall occurred immediately before and at the time of the collision (including a description of what happened, the speed at which the vehicles were travelling, whether the lights were on or off, whether the other driver was indicating etc)
- if you are fortunate enough to have a camera with you at the time of the collision, take photographs of the scene of the collision from various angles. If not, it is always a good idea to return to the scene as soon as possible thereafter, to take the necessary photographs
- measure distances from the point of the collision to identifiable landmarks such as traffic lights, lamp standards, stop signs and the like and make a rough sketch showing the position of the vehicles immediately before and after the collision
- if you are fortunate enough to have witnesses, make sure to take down their full names, addresses and telephone numbers
- do not admit liability for the collision, whether to the driver of the other car, a bystander or to the Police, as this may prejudice any claim that you may have either against the other driver or in respect of your policy of insurance . On the other hand, if the other driver apologizes for the collision and admits liability, do not hesitate to have him sign a written admission of liability there and then and, if possible, have that statement witnessed. On the other hand, if he is not prepared to commit his apology to writing, endeavour to persuade him to make his admission in the presence of a responsible official, such as a police officer
- if a person or animal has been injured, you are not allowed to move the vehicles, even if they obstruct the traffic until you are given permission to do so by a traffic officer or unless either vehicle completely obstructs the road. However, if you do move either vehicle, it is important to chalk out its position before doing so. On the other hand, if no-one has been injured, it would be important to move the vehicles out of the road to prevent a further collision with oncoming traffic
- if you are obliged to have your car towed away, agree the charges in advance, otherwise you could be in for a nasty shock when presented with the bill later. Similarly, if you are a member of the Automobile Association (AA), make sure that only an approved tow-in service is utilised, as the AA will not pay for such service otherwise and you could be substantially out of pocket
- if there is a traffic officer at the scene of the collision, you are obliged to provide him with such information as he may require. If you do not give this information to such official, you must within 24 hours of the accident, report it at a police station or at an authorised office of a traffic officer (unless you are injured and cannot do so timeously, in which event you must report the accident as soon as is reasonably practicable thereafter). When you report the accident, give only the bare essentials and do not commit yourself to a written statement before consulting your insurance company or attorney
- as soon as possible, advise your broker of the accident (even if you do not intend to claim), as the other driver may lay a claim at a later stage
- Keeping the above in mind, it would be advisable to carry in your car a pen, paper, a first aid kit, torch and red reflective triangles
THIRD PARTY CLAIMS FOR PERSONAL INJURY
If you or any members of your family are injured in a collision, whether as a driver or passenger, the incident should be taken up with your attorney to determine whether or not you would be entitled to lay claim for compensation for the injuries that you have suffered.
Such claim may lie even in the so called “hit and run” cases where you are not able to establish the identity of either the owner or the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident.
There are strict statutory provisions that regulate the submission of claim forms in support of your claim for damages and these must be supported by medical and other documentation.
Moreover, your claim for damages must be submitted within a prescribed period, failing which you may forfeit your rights to claim anything whatsoever. It is for these very reasons that it is imperative that you consult your attorney as soon as possible after the collision, so that may take such steps as may be necessary to protect your rights.
The statutory form that will be completed and submitted by your attorney will make claim in respect of the death of or any bodily injury to any other person or any bodily injury to yourself. Third party claims do not provide for recovery of damages to property.
CLAIMS FOR DAMAGE TO YOUR VEHICLE
- This type of insurance cover is issued by a short-term insurance company and compensates you for damage caused to your car whether due to your own negligence or not.
- There are always exceptions to the extent of the cover and it is essential, with the help of your insurance broker, to go through the policy of insurance to ascertain precisely what is and what is not covered by the policy.
- There are generally two reasons why one would not claim against an insurance company even if comprehensively insured:
- invariably, an insurance company will require the insured to pay a “voluntarily excess” which simply stated means that you are obliged to pay the first part of the claim. If your claim is, say, only R1 000,00 and your excess is, say, R500,00, it would not pay you to claim as you may forfeit your “no-claim bonus”
- the no-claim bonus is a discount on the basic premium payable by you to enjoy the benefits of the comprehensive insurance.
You could lose part or the entire discount if you claim against the policy. One should therefore seek the advice of an insurance broker before deciding to claim. Obviously, if your claim is substantial, then there should be no hesitation in submitting a claim. On the other hand, if the claim is minimal you should think twice about forfeiting all or part of your no-claim benefits. In addition, if you claim you can be sure that your premiums will increase and such increase may negate any possible benefit that you may enjoy by lodging a claim in the first instance.