Approximately only a third of the vehicles on the South African roads are currently insured, according to the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA). This poses a huge risk to those motor vehicle owners who only have a third-party motor insurance policy in place because there is about a 65% chance that they will not be able to recover the costs caused by damages to their vehicle by a third party.
This is according to Marike Van Niekerk, Manager – Legal and Compliance at MUA, who explains that third-party insurance is the minimum level of insurance cover that a vehicle owner can obtain in South Africa. “This type of insurance is specifically designed to be a more affordable type of vehicle insurance and shields a vehicle owner against the costs when he or she is liable for the damages caused to another person’s property or vehicle.”
It is important to realise that third-party insurance does not cover any damage or to the policyholder’s own vehicle, she adds. If a motorist is not at fault, they would naturally want to claim from the responsible party, she says. “However, a motorist with third-party insurance can only claim against the responsible person and not against his or her own insurer.”
This is where the benefit of having comprehensive vehicle insurance cover comes in to play, says van Niekerk. “With comprehensive vehicle cover, the individual can claim from their insurance company and when they are not to blame the insurance company will handle the recovery process against either the third party or the third party’s insurer. If the claim is successful and the policyholder is not at fault, the insurer will refund the policyholder the excess they paid under their insurance contract and reinstate their claims record.”
Determining who is at fault
When it comes to determining which party was at fault, and to what degree, the Law of Collision is applied. “This law is used to determine settlement and whether or not both parties were negligent in causing the accident and therefore how each party will be compensated or held liable according to their specific degree of negligence. Surrounding circumstances and previous court case precedents are also taken into consideration. Needless to say, this is not a simple process.”
She states that a person alleging negligence will have to show that the other driver did not act reasonable in the circumstances, that they should have been able to foresee the damages they could have caused and should have taken reasonable steps to prevent such damages.
“The claimant must first prove that the damages suffered by them and their property is a direct result of the incident. They must prove negligence or recklessness on the part of the insured party. They must also prove that the repairs and compensation will return the vehicle to the state it would have been in, if the accident had not occurred.”
Steps to follow at the accident scene
In the event of an accident, van Niekerk advises that it is of utmost importance not to admit liability at any stage at the accident scene. “Do not claim fault for the accident regardless of the situation and do not sign any documentation regarding fault or promise to pay any damages. This is to avoid prejudicing the rights of yourself or your insurer. It must be noted that an insurer will only be liable to the extent that the insured is legally liable.”
Write down all the details surrounding the accident as this will be required when reporting the incident to the police, which must take place within 24 hours of the accident, and at claims stage. “The required details include: date and time of accident; location of accident; condition of road; weather conditions; contact information of any witnesses; details of the driver of the third party vehicle (driver’s license number, address, mobile, business and home numbers); details of the third party vehicle (number plate number, make, model, colour, damages and condition description); insurer details; and contact details of any and all passengers.”
Write down what happened and try and sketch where the vehicles ended after the accident, as well as the directions travelled by the vehicles before, during and after the incident as well as other observations, she advises. “The police require this sketch when you open a case file, so it is best to do it when it is fresh in your mind. Take pictures of the conditions of both vehicles if this is possible.”
“While comprehensive insurance cover is ideal, it is vital for motorists to have some form of vehicle insurance in place, even if it is at least third-party insurance. Third-party insurance will ensure that if you are involved in an accident and you are found responsible that you do not have to suddenly find the funds to cover the costs of damages to the third party, which can range from vehicle repairs to replacing the vehicle entirely if it is written off,” she adds.