If you are in a car accident, you may be too shocked, disoriented or just plain angry to think straight. But, as a recent case illustrates, it is important to keep a cool head and take down the contact details of any witnesses who can support your version of events in court.
On 2 July 2006, teacher Ellen Fitzgerald* was driving in Benoni, and indicated to turn right into a shopping mall. She saw that another driver, travelling in the opposite direction, was indicating to turn left into the same centre, and so Ellen proceeded to turn, thinking it was safe to do so.
Unfortunately, the other driver carried on straight instead of turning, causing a collision between the two vehicles. Ellen, who had a pre-existing neck condition, aggravated the injury in the accident and consequently had to wear a neck brace for an extended period.
She enlisted the services of de Broglio Attorneys to handle her claim against the Road Accident Fund. However, once it was discovered that Ellen had not obtained any details of witnesses to the accident, it was the other driver’s word against hers – and the other driver disputed the contention that she had been intending to turn and maintained that the accident was Ellen’s fault.
The result was that, not knowing whose account was the truth, the Fund offered Ellen a 50/50 apportionment of blame. The matter was finalised with the court awarding Ellen R192 000 after deductions.
The client could potentially have received a far higher compensation payout had she taken the time to approach passersby who had witnessed the crash, to testify in support of her contention that she was not at fault.
“It is imperative to get the name and number of any witnesses immediately after an accident,” says Michael de Broglio.
“Most witnesses don’t hang around for long after a collision, so accident victims need to keep their wits about them and act quickly. Their case will be so much stronger if they have an independent witness to back up their version of events in court.”
*Names have been changed to protect client confidentiality