At some point in life, you are bound to be involved in a fender bender. Minor motor vehicle accidents are fairly common in South Africa, especially on rainy days or during the night when visibility is severely reduced. Thankfully, these incidents are very rarely fatal, but they do come with a significant dose of anger, confusion and subsequent admin to sort everything between the parties involved. So, we’ve put together a handy guide to dealing with minor car accidents to help you navigate through this frustrating situation.
First things first: stop, take a deep breath and help those involved in the accident.
Legally, you are obliged to stop after hitting a car, person or animal. If you decided to hit and run, you could face a fine of up to R180 000, time behind bars (up to 9 years) or both. Of course, if someone is injured, you have to call emergency services. Failing to do so could result in a number of charges – reckless driving, negligent driving, culpable homicide, civil damages claims or a civil claim for personal injury, to name a few.
If no one is hurt and the damage to either car is minimal, the next step will be to move the vehicles so that they do not interfere with traffic and cause problems for other motorists. However, the post-accident positions of cars must be marked off on the road before vehicles are moved.
Do note: In the unfortunate event that a person is hurt, only a police or traffic officer is allowed to indicate whether or not the cars may be moved from the scene of the accident. Furthermore, the SAPS will only come out to the scene if someone was hurt, but the accident must be reported to the police within 24hrs, regardless of whether either party is considering legal action.
It’s important to know that you are legally entitled to claim compensation if another driver caused the accident and your vehicle is damaged as a result. Ideally, the other driver can claim from their insurance company, but, of course, not everyone has insurance. In both instance, though, it’s highly recommended that you do the following:
- Get full names and ID of the other driver and witnesses.
- Obtain the other driver’s and witnesses’ address, email and phone number.
- Take pictures of the damage to your vehicle.
- Write down a detailed description of the vehicle – colour, make and model, registration number.
- If the police, traffic officers or medics show up, take down their details.
- Take down the details of tow truck employees.
Important: Do not admit fault or take responsibility for the accident, even if you were unequivocally the cause of the mishap. It’s up to the SAPS to determine the cause of the accident and who is liable. Doing so may invite the other driver to try to convince you into settling the accident without the involvement of the authorities or insurance.
If you are relying on the good faith of the other driver to pay for the damages to your vehicle, it’s advisable to obtain at least three quotes for the repairs and present them to the driver. Be sure to keep a very thorough paper trail and document all correspondence, so that you have evidence to fall back on should you need to. Needless to say, there is always a strong chance that this won’t run too smoothly, and it is worth knowing that the law is on your side. If the driver doesn’t pay for the damages, you can send a letter that brings them to terms; meaning, you serve them with a Letter of Demand. The letter must set out who was involved, what happened, the amount that must be paid and the date by which it must be paid (a 14-day grace period is recommended). Make it clear to the driver than if he/she doesn’t pay up, you will institute a civil claim for damages. Again, do your homework and gather the following documents:
- Vehicle registration documents.
- Copy of driver’s license.
- 3 Quotes for Damages.
- Accident Report.
- Statements from witnesses and your own version of events.
Bear in mind, you will only have 3 years from the date of the accident to claim if not, the claim will lapse and there won’t be recourse. If the claim is for more than R15 000, it will have to be lodged in the Magistrates Court, and it is a good idea to get a lawyer’s assistance. For anything below R15 000, the Small Claims Court can be of assistance.
Lastly, there is no reason to feel powerless in a minor motor vehicle accident situation. Take comfort in knowing that there are many ways in which the law can work for you.