Road Accident Claims in South Africa
Is it More Difficult to Succeed with a Defence of Sudden Emergency in Tyre Burst Accidents in the Advent of Sophisticated Safety Systems in Modern Vehicles?
We recently argued a matter in the Eastern Cape High Court, Mthatha, where our clients had sustained severe brain and orthopaedic injuries as a result of a single vehicle accident that took place near Beaufort West on 22 December 2007, when the bus driver lost control of his bus following a deflated tyre. The defendant, acting on behalf of Romans Transport, alleged that the driver was faced with a sudden emergency and that his conduct was reasonable in the circumstances. It was the driver’s evidence that his employers taught him not to apply the brakes as this would cause the bus to leave the road, but conceded that he had braked too late when the bus had already left the road.
During the trial, we led expert evidence to reconstruct the accident which showed that the driver failed to apply his brakes within the general accepted perception-reaction time period of 1.5 seconds, and continued to drive for a further 185 meters before colliding into a rock face. This particular bus was fitted with a sophisticated ABS and EBS braking system. The plaintiffs’ expert’s calculations showed that had the driver braked gently, the bus could have been brought to a safe stop.
In arguing that the driver was faced with a sudden emergency, counsel for the defendant relied on Neethling & Another v G P Oosthuizen 2009 (5) SA 376 (WCC), where the driver was found to have been negligent in applying the brakes but facts were distinguishable as the vehicle was not in a roadworthy condition. Madyosi v SA Eagle Insurance 1990 (3) SA 442 (AD), was also referred to which had similar facts but regarded an accident that took place 30 years ago before the advent of modern braking systems.
Naturally, each case must be treated on its own merits, but where a vehicle is fitted with modern braking systems, sudden emergency is no longer a straightforward defence. In Neethling, the court held that, “unquestionably tyre disablement can be a factor in an accident, but experience shows that it is nearly always in combination with deficiencies in other parts of the vehicle, with irregularities in the road, or probably most commonly in connection with driver ineptitude.”
Malcolm Lyons & Brivik Inc.
Specialist Attorneys in Personal Injury & Labour Law