Seeking Compensation After a Car Accident: Lessons from a Joyriding Passenger’s Failed Claim

Seeking Compensation After a Car Accident: Lessons from a Joyriding Passenger’s Failed Claim

Published on 20 September 2023
Last updated on 18 March 2024

Imagine this: you’re driving down the road, minding your own business, when suddenly, you find yourself involved in a car accident. It’s a scenario that no one wants to experience. But what happens when the accident involves a stolen vehicle and criminal behaviour?

A recent case in the Queensland Supreme Court sheds light on the challenges faced by individuals seeking compensation for injuries sustained in such situations. Let’s delve into the details of the case of Captain v Wosomo [2017] QSC 86 and explore what it means for car accident victims like you.

Seeking Compensation After a Car Accident: Lessons from a Joyriding Passenger’s Failed Claim

1. Background

Back in February 2013, a group of teenagers decided to take a joyride in Townsville. They stole a Toyota Hilux, with one of them behind the wheel and the others as passengers. The adventure quickly turned disastrous when the driver lost control of the vehicle, crashing into a light pole. One of the passengers, a 14-year-old, suffered severe head injuries during the accident. What makes this case even more complicated is the fact that none of the occupants were wearing seatbelts.

2. The Legal Issues

The injured passenger, represented by a guardian, sought compensation under the Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994 (Qld) from the driver of the stolen car. However, the case wasn’t as straightforward as it may seem. Several crucial legal issues came into play:

2.1 Duty of Care: Did the Driver Owe a Duty to the Passenger?

One of the main questions in this case was whether the driver had a duty to ensure the safety of the passenger.

Generally, a defendant does not owe a plaintiff a duty of care if the plaintiff was complicit in a joint illegal enterprise. The illegal activity in the present case was the unlawful use of the stolen vehicle.

The parties, including the plaintiff, accepted that they were jointly engaged in criminal activity with the defendant, and thus no duty of care was initially owed by the defendant. However, the plaintiff argued that he had withdrawn from the illegal activity by shouting ‘slow down’ moments before the accident.

The Supreme Court found that the plaintiff had not withdrawn from the illegal enterprise by merely asking the defendant to slow down. At best, this was a request for the defendant to stop speeding and thereby engaging in reckless driving. Unlike in a similar case of Miller v Miller, which involved a direct request to be let out of the car, the plaintiff did not expressly or tacitly communicate his withdrawal from the joint illegal enterprise.

Thus, the Supreme Court held that the defendant did not owe a duty to take reasonable care to the plaintiff. Accordingly, the plaintiff was not awarded any damages.

2.2 Criminal Conduct and Damages: The Consequences of Illegal Behaviour

Notwithstanding the decision, the Supreme Court continued to consider the implication of the plaintiff’s involvement in criminal activity and whether this would have affected his claim for damages.

Section 45(1) of the Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld), the defendant is not held liable where the plaintiff has engaged in conduct constituting an indictable offence. This section effectively bars the plaintiff from receiving compensation if their conduct has contributed to the risk of the harm.

An exception is provided under section 45(2) which permits the court to award damages in circumstances where section 45(1) would operate harshly and unjustly. In such a scenario, the court would assess and accordingly discount the damages awarded taking into account of the plaintiff’s conduct.

In the present case, the Supreme Court was satisfied that the suffering of personal injuries was a reasonably foreseeably consequence of the illegal conduct, that being the unlawful use of the vehicle. Moreover, the Plaintiff had materially contributed to that risk as an active participant in the stealing of the vehicle, and going along for the joyride. Had this not occurred, he would not have faced the risk of harm which he suffered.

The Supreme Court accepted in this instance, the application of s45 would operate both harshly and unjustly given the plaintiff’s young age and the magnitude of the catastrophic injuries and its consequences. Thus, the Supreme Court assessed the damages with a reduction, on account of the plaintiff’s conduct, of 50%.

2.3 Taking Responsibility: The Role of Contributory Negligence

The Supreme Court was satisfied that the plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence for failure to wear a seatbelt. The court further acknowledged that wearing a seatbelt could have likely avoided the head injuries sustained by the plaintiff as a result of the accident.

This raised the issue of contributory negligence, where the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt could impact the damages awarded. Had damages been ordered, the Supreme Court considered an allowance of 15% for contributory negligence, in addition to the 50% on account of the plaintiff’s conduct.

However, Damages were not ultimately awarded due the Supreme Court’s conclusion that defendant did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care.

3. What Does This Mean for You?

Now, you might be wondering, “How does this case impact me as a car accident victim?” Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Seek Legal Guidance: If you’ve been involved in a car accident, regardless of the circumstances, it’s crucial to seek legal advice. A qualified legal professional, like the team at Ascent Lawyers, can assess your situation and guide you through the complex legal process.
  2. Understanding Liability: The case highlighted the challenges of establishing a duty of care in situations involving criminal behaviour. It’s essential to work with lawyers experienced in personal injury and motor vehicle accident cases to navigate these complexities.
  3. Importance of Evidence: The court considered various factors, such as withdrawal from criminal activity and contributory negligence. Collecting evidence and documentation related to the accident can significantly impact the outcome of your claim.
  4. Know Your Rights: Familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations relevant to your case. While legal matters can be complex, having a basic understanding can empower you to make informed decisions.

4. Ascent Lawyers: Your Trusted Legal Partners

At Ascent Lawyers, we understand that being involved in a car accident can be overwhelming. Our team of experienced professionals specializes in CTP claims and personal injury cases. We’re here to provide you with the guidance and support your need during this challenging time.

If you’ve recently been in a car accident and need legal assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our dedicated team will work tirelessly to protect your rights and help you navigate the legal complexities. Remember, you don’t have to face this alone.

Disclaimer: Ascent Lawyers owns all copyright in the text. This article is of a general nature and should not be regarded as legal advice or relied on for assistance in any particular circumstance or emergency situation. To obtain legal advice in relation to your own circumstances, please contact us for consultation.

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