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Insights

The “blameless accident” provisions were introduced by the NSW Parliament in October 2007, and were applied in circumstances where the injured person (other than the driver) could not establish fault of the other driver or owner such as where the driver suffered a sudden illness such as an unforeseeable heart attack. Recent case law has broadened the scope of the blameless provisions to include an application in single-vehicle accidents, allowing the injured driver to recover compensation.

Recent Case Law

Garry Connaughton v Pacific Rail Engineering Pty Limited was decided on 12 February 2015 by Judge Norton and considered the operation of the blameless provisions under MACA where the injured person was the driver in a single vehicle accident claiming damages against the owner of the vehicle.

Mr Connaughton (the plaintiff) was involved in a motor vehicle accident on 13 July 2011. The plaintiff was the driver of a truck travelling slowly up Mount Ousley Road in the curb side lane when a roadside tree fell and struck the cabin of his truck causing the truck to lose control and subsequently come to a halt.

The tree completely crushed the cabin of the truck trapping the driver who had to be extracted. The tree had crushed the roof, windscreen and dashboard, badly injuring the plaintiff.

The plaintiff alleged that the accident was not caused by any act or omission by him as the driver and was not caused by the fault of any other person. There were no other vehicles involved. The plaintiff sued the owner of the truck (Pacific Rail Engineering Pty Ltd) claiming damages under MACA alleging that the accident was blameless.

Her Honour found wholly in favour of the plaintiff under the blameless provisions of MACA, and concluded – “his driving on the road was no more than a background fact that explains no more than why he was in a position where he could be struck by a tree. Thus the driving of the plaintiff was nothing more than ‘near occasion of the injury’.”

This case demonstrates the scope of the blameless accident provisions, to now cover drivers involved in single-vehicle accidents where there is no third party involved.

Hossain v Mirdha was decided on 25 June 2015 and gave further consideration to the blameless provisions of MACA in respect of a single vehicle accident.

The plaintiff in this matter was a taxi driver who swerved the vehicle he was driving to avoid a dog which had run out onto the road in front of him, causing him to collide with the rear of a truck parked on the side of the road.

The plaintiff sought to sue the owners of the taxi he was driving, relying on the blameless provisions of MACA. The plaintiff alleged that the dog had caused the accident whereas the defendant claimed that there can be more than one cause of an accident and in this case that included both the dog’s behaviour and then the driver’s response to that behaviour i.e. both the dog and the driver had contributed to the accident.

Judge Elkaim held that the plaintiff was not entitled to rely on the blameless provisions noting that the plaintiff’s vehicle would not have collided with the parked truck if the driver had not swerved to avoid hitting the dog i.e. the plaintiff’s act of swerving had caused the accident.

What These Cases Mean for the Application of the Blameless Provisions

Previously it was thought that MACA precluded claims where there was no identifiable third party liable to cover damages. The matters of Connaughton and Hossain demonstrate that there may be a potential recovery of compensation under the blameless provisions of MACA in single vehicle accidents where there is no suggestion of any act by the driver that can be said to have caused or contributed to the accident, even if that conduct was involuntary, not the sole cause of the accident and free of fault.

This article was written by the Kells Criminal Law Team.