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8 Dos and Don’ts: Legal Liability for a Car Accident in South Africa

8 Dos and Don’ts: Legal Liability for a Car Accident in South Africa
Feb 10, 2016 gnuworld
car accident liability

Certain legal dos and don’ts apply if you’re in a car accident. Knowing these can protect you from breaking the law or inadvertently accepting legal liability for a car accident in South Africa.

Under South African law, the settlement of claims arising from a road accident depends on the extent to which each driver is held liable for the accident.

A driver who’s found negligent may be held fully liable for an accident. Alternatively, each driver involved may be held partially liable. For example, you may be held 30% liable for an accident while the other driver is held 70% liable.

The steps you take immediately after an accident could affect your liability.

1. Stop and stay at the scene

First stop your vehicle and pull over safely.

It’s legally required that you do this. Failure to stop could lead to a fine, a prison sentence or both.

As soon as you’ve stopped, attend to possible medical emergencies. Assess any injury to people, help as best you can to get them to safety and call for emergency assistance. If you don’t know first aid, avoid potentially making matters worse by trying to be the hero.

Another good reason to remain at the site is to prevent only one-sided accounts of the accident from being given to police who arrive on the scene.

2. Report the accident

Legally, you’re required to report a road accident to the police if anyone has been hurt or killed, if an offense has been committed or if a state vehicle or property has been damaged.

In these situations, you need to stay on site until a police officer has dismissed you.

If an accident is minor and both parties involved decide to move on with matters with their respective insurance parties, you may leave without a police officer’s permission. However, you must report the incident at your nearest police station within 24 hours if anyone was injured.

Keep in mind that you’re not under obligation to give a police officer a verbal statement, either at the scene or at the station. A written statement is acceptable.

You can also ask to write the statement down yourself, in your own words.

If you choose to do this, use clear, unambiguous language.

3. Get details of the other parties and of witnesses

Exchange details with any other parties involved in the accident, and with any witnesses. Record names, addresses, ID and contact numbers and vehicle registration numbers.

If you’re too injured to do so, the traffic or police officer will do so on your behalf. It’s also a good idea to take down the officer’s name.

4. Don’t take anything intoxicating “to calm down”

Unless a medical doctor has said you must take some kind of narcotic or intoxicant (and there’s a good medical reason for this), don’t do so.

The police at the scene or station may want you to undergo a medical examination after an accident.

If you’ve taken an intoxicant, it may be difficult or impossible to prove that you weren’t intoxicated at the time when the accident occurred.

5. Record details of the accident straight away

As soon as possible, record details of the accident. If you can, take photographs of the accident scene, the vehicles and any damage.

Also make notes about any factors that contributed to the accident. Examples might be traffic flow, the weather, potholes or other dangerous road conditions or malfunctioning traffic lights.

It can also help to sketch the scene, showing the vehicles in relation to a clear fixed point.

6. Watch your words

With emotions and adrenaline running high, people often say things after an accident that they come to regret.

Stay calm, and say less rather than more. Even an offhand or innocent remark may be recorded in police statements and insurance claims, and used against you under cross-examination.

So what type of things should you avoid saying?

First, don’t admit you were to blame and definitely don’t offer any payment that could be construed as a bribe. Most insurers prohibit statements of admission, offer, promise, payment or indemnity.

Also avoid saying things like the following:

  • “I’ll pay for the damage” or “I’m sure my insurance will take care of it”
    This could be seen as an admission of legal liability for a car accident. Similarly, don’t agree to settle anything without the help of an attorney.
  • “I didn’t see you” or “I was on the phone”
    These are examples of admissions against interest, which are admissible in court and may be used against you.
  • “I don’t need medical help. I’m fine.”
    This kind of statement can be an admission against interest. Also, it can take a few days for injuries to reveal themselves. Endorphins and adrenaline may initially mask the symptoms of injury.

7. Get a copy of the police report

A police report is one of the most critical pieces of evidence for determining liability in the event of a car accident. Always ask the police for a full copy of the report that’s filed.

8. Call an experienced attorney

Minor fender-benders can typically be resolved simply by exchanging insurance information. However, even minor accidents can result in serious injuries.

If you have been injured and the legal liability for a car accident lies partly or fully with another driver, you may qualify for compensation from the Road Accident Fund (RAF). In this case, it’s wise to contact an experienced personal injury attorney.

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How DSC Attorneys can help

At DSC Attorneys, we have extensive experience in handling road accident claims. Our personal injury attorneys and medico-legal team are committed to helping road accident victims get the compensation they deserve – and we work on a no win, no fee basis.

Contact us online or call 0861 465 879 for the best possible legal support and representation.

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