Traffic accidents are not uncommon in Singapore. In 2016, the Singapore Police Force reported 10,828 traffic accidents in Singapore which resulted in injuries or fatalities. Although this was the lowest traffic fatality rate in Singapore since 1981, the number of accidents resulting in injuries actually increased. If you have been involved in a traffic accident, you may face the possibility of a traffic accident claim being made against you.
While the rules and processes may seem complicated, this article will highlight what you need to know in order to effectively defend yourself against a traffic accident claim.
What can be claimed against you?
First, you should be aware of what the other party may claim against you as a result of the accident. These fall mainly into two categories: property damage and personal injury. The other party may claim either one or both, depending on what losses or harms he/she has suffered.
Under property damage, the other party may claim:
- Costs of transporting the vehicle to the repair workshop
- Costs of repairing the vehicle
- Costs of obtaining a substitute vehicle for the period the vehicle is under repair
Under personal injury, the other party may claim:
- Some amount to account for his/her pain and suffering
- The costs of his/her medical fees
- The loss of his/her salary occasioned by his/her inability to work due to his/her injuries
- Loss of earning capacity/future salary in the event that there are permanent disabilities
- Bereavement damages, in cases of fatalities
- In the case of a fatality, the dependents of the deceased can also commence a claim for loss of dependency
The main issue of a civil claim is the amount of compensation that should be paid out. If the injuries are minor, the claim for pain and suffering is much lower than that of the property damage claim.
As for whether the driver(s) committed any crime in causing the accident, i.e. criminal liability, that is dealt with separately. It is the prerogative of the traffic police to decide whether to charge anyone.
If the matter goes to Court, both parties will present their version of how the accident happened and the Court will give an indication on the apportionment of liability. Very often, both parties have to bear some liability.
Steps to take after a claim has been made against you
- After you receive notice of the other party’s claim, do not admit any liability or make any payment. If you make any payment that is not pre-approved by your insurer, it is not guaranteed that you will be able to claim back this amount from your insurer.
- The first thing to do after you receive the other party’s claim is to report the claim to your insurer. In doing so, you should provide your insurer with the documents you have received from the other party, as well as evidence that you had collected yourself when the accident occurred. For more information on what evidence you should collect, as well as what to do immediately after a road traffic accident, click here.
- After this, wait for your insurer’s decision on its next course of action. Your insurer may do one of three things –
- Settle the claim on your behalf by negotiating with or paying the other party the requested sum
- Dispute the claim in court on your behalf
- Repudiate liability. This means that your insurer is not willing to assist you because they believe the claim is not covered under your insurance policy.
- Should your insurer proceed with Options A or B, you need only cooperate with them and they will handle the case on your behalf. However, if your insurer proceeds with Option C – repudiating liability – you may have to engage a lawyer to assist you in handling the case. Your lawyer can help you with gathering evidence, negotiating with the other party, and representing you in court.
Avoiding legal liability
Should the claim be litigated in court, it is likely that the claim would be one for negligence. There are two main ways to avoid being found liable for negligence:
- Disputing the elements of the negligence claim
The first way is by arguing that the claim itself is not well-founded. In other words, you are saying that the other party does not have a claim against you in the first place. Underlying this argument is the rule that it is the other party’s responsibility to establish a claim against you.
- Raising a valid defence
The second way is by arguing that even if the other party has a valid claim against you, you can take advantage of certain defences which eliminate part or all of your liability.
#1 Disputing the elements of the claim
Under the first category of disputing the elements of the claim, it may be helpful to first outline the elements that the other party needs to prove to form a valid claim.
- Duty of care. The other party must prove that you owed him/her a duty to take care while driving. This is usually the case, and therefore easy to prove.
- Breach of the standard of care. The other party must prove that you had not taken the requisite amount of care that you should have taken. There are two parts to this inquiry: first, establishing what was the requisite amount of care (also known as the standard of care); second, establishing that your actions or inaction fell below this standard of care.
- Causation of damage. The other party must prove that it was your failure to take sufficient care that caused the damage that he/she is claiming for. For example, the other party cannot claim for a foot sprain that occurred before the accident, as the sprain was clearly not caused by the accident.
- Remoteness of damage. The other party must prove that the damage that he/she is claiming for is of a type that a reasonable person would have foreseen to have been the outcome of the accident. For example, a concussion or a fracture would be reasonably foreseeable types of damage.
Of these elements, the most commonly disputed ones are breach of the standard of care and causation of damage.
By disputing that you have breached the standard of care, you are essentially saying that you have taken the requisite amount of care. One way to dispute a breach of the standard of care is through the “agony of the moment” argument. This argument claims that although you hit another person or vehicle, what you did was reasonable under the circumstances. For example, if you had hit another vehicle because you were swerving to avoid a child running onto the road, your actions may be considered reasonable. If so, you will not be found to have breached the standard of care.
By disputing the causation of damage, you are essentially saying that your actions, even if negligent, did not cause the damage that the other party is claiming for. Usually what happens is that there is a prior accident or the claimant/plaintiff had a pre-existing injury. As such, the injury that he complains about now is not due to the accident but due to something else.
#2 Raising a valid defence
Even if the other party is able to establish all the elements of the claim, you may still avoid liability by raising a valid defence to the claim. The defence may either eliminate part of your liability or all of your liability. There are several common defences.
(a) Contributory negligence
Under this defence, you are essentially arguing that the other party was also negligent and that his/her negligence also contributed to damage that he/she is claiming. For example, if the other party was negligent in not wearing his/her seatbelt, that may mean that they too contributed to their own damage.
In Singapore, this defence is based on the Contributory Negligence and Personal Injuries Act, which allows the court to reduce the amount of damages awarded as it thinks just and equitable. In doing so, the court will consider two things: the parties’ relative blameworthiness, and the relative importance of the parties’ acts in causing the damage. It is important to note that this defence will only partially reduce your liability – you will still be liable for some of the damage.
(b) Voluntary assumption of risk
This defence is simply saying that the other person had known of the risk of injury, and had agreed to incur the risk of injury. As such, you should not be held liable for it. For example, if the other party was a passenger in your car, and had agreed to be driven by you despite knowing that you were intoxicated and could not drive safely, the other party would not then be able to claim against you. This is even though you were indeed negligent for driving while intoxicated.
In contrast with contributory negligence, this is a complete defence; this means that if the defence succeeds, you will not be liable for any of the damage
The next defence is that of illegality, which applies if the other party was engaged in an illegal activity when the accident occurred. This defence argues that because of that illegality, the other party should not be able to make a claim against you. For example, if the other party was your passenger, and was encouraging you to drive recklessly to frighten others on the road, he/she would be unlikely to be able to claim against you for negligence if he/she gets injured in the process of your reckless driving. In practice, this defence is not often used because it is not easy to prove and is largely based on policy considerations. However, it is also a complete defence.
(d) Failure to claim within limitation period.
The last defence takes objection to the time at which the claim was filed in court. Therefore, it is a procedural claim that does not depend on the merit of the claim itself.
Generally, there are stipulated times within which a claim must be filed in court. In Singapore, this is governed by the Limitation Act. For negligence claims, the time limit is within 6 years of the accident having taken place. Additionally, where the claim includes personal injuries, the time limit is shortened to 3 years. If the claim is not filed within the limitation period, the claim will be barred from being heard in court.
Speak to Sara or lawyers like Sara about a traffic accident or personal injury
If you have a legal question about your traffic accident or personal injury, you can request a quote with Sara from Vicki Heng Law Corporation. You can also get a quick consult where the lawyers will call you back on the phone within 1-2 days to answer your questions and give you legal advice, all for a transparent, flat fee of S$49.
The contents of this article should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice and you should consult a lawyer should you have any queries or if you wish to make any claim.
You might be interested in these articles:
- What to do after a traffic accident in Singapore – Tips from a lawyer
- Lawyer Feature – Sara Ng from Vicki Heng Law Corporation
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.