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Minor accidents can cause major hassles


ACCIDENTS happen all the time. Some are serious and cause injuries and substantial damage, while others result in minor damage but no injuries whatsoever.

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, an accident is “an unpleasant event, especially in a vehicle, that happens unexpectedly and causes injury or damage”.

When a road accident leads to serious damage and people are injured, the parties involved almost always make police reports, unless it is a hit-and-run case.

What I wish to discuss today is not the serious accidents but fender benders, that is, cases where all that happens is one car bumping another. Often, the only damage is a small dent or a scratch.

The motorists usually do not make police reports because they may end up spending many hours with the police, including dealing with the investigating officer.

Therefore, in some cases, the party who is in the wrong may tell the other motorist to go ahead and repair the damaged vehicle. The latter will be reimbursed.

This is a very good way of handling the matter. Nobody lodges a police report and all parties save time, money and effort. Technically, this is not right but that is another matter.

However, this approach can be risky. Usually, people are generally sincere and keep their word. But it is not always like this, and that is when problems crop up.

Here is an example. Traffic was moving very slowly and the vehicles were merely rolling down a flyover. A car knocked the car in front. It was bumper-to-bumper contact and there was hardly any visible damage.

The driver of the car at the back (Driver A) realised that technically it was his fault.

Prior to the accident, he was already feeling stressed because his neighbour had died that morning. Driver A was on the way to the office; the plan was to give instructions and then go home to lend support to the late neighbour’s family.

He was therefore not in the frame of mind to spend hours at the police station.

The woman who drove the other car (Driver B) was quick to take photographs of both cars. In good faith, Driver A handed his business card to Driver B.

Despite the negligible damage to the other car, he offered to bear any expenses if the car needed to be checked.

There was no mention then of either party making a police report.

But Driver B did exactly that. She also lodged a claim with her insurance company for several thousand ringgit. How could this have happened?

The answer is simple. She took the opportunity to profit from the incident.

But didn’t the police examine her car to determine the actual damage?

Driver B probably headed to a workshop she was familiar with, and told the operator that the accident was a chance to make money. The workshop operator knew too well what should be done next.

Parts of the car would have been removed and replaced with damaged parts from other cars. The idea was to show substantial damage. Photographs of the car in this condition would have been brought along when the driver made her police report.

The police was in no position to know the truth. They too would have taken some photographs for their records.

Armed with the police report, photographs and workshop bill, Driver B submitted to the insurance company a claim against Driver A.

Because the insurer was unaware of what had actually happened, the claim would have been approved but payment would have been withheld as there was no evidence that Driver A had been charged and convicted or that his offence had been compounded.

Basically, the insurer wanted to see an admission of liability.

However, Driver A had not even lodged a police report; to him, the understanding was that neither driver would do so.

With the insurance payment now on hold, the police would be pressured to take action against Driver A.

They would have asked him to turn up at the police station, where he would have to explain his failure to report the accident.

Whatever the circumstances of the accident, he committed an offence because under the law, he was obliged to report the accident within 24 hours.

The only way out would be to pay the fine when his offence was compounded.

With that, Driver B would get her insurance payment, which she would likely share with the workshop.

So what should one do after a minor accident? If he is claiming from his insurer, a police report is definitely required. But if the damage is minimal, he may instead bear the cost of repairs himself.

When two cars are in an accident and the damage appears small, the danger is that the repairs can be a lot more expensive than anticipated. It would be safer to lodge a police report, pay the compound fine and put the matter behind you.

Of course, it all depends on the circumstances. If you do not want to make a police report, you should carefully inspect the car that has been damaged and weigh the potential consequences of reimbursement of repair costs instead of going to the police.

It hinges on feelings. Can you trust the other party? Personal judgment will therefore be a factor.

Any comments or suggestions for points of discussion can be sent to mavico7@yahoo.com. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Bhag Singh , Law for Everyone

   

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