What will happen to my vehicle after I have been involved in a motor vehicle accident and who will be responsible for the damages? Over and above the emotional and economical tension it causes a person and his/her family, there will always be legal principles that apply.
What does the law say?
The most prominent legal field that will apply when a person is involved in a motor vehicle accident is the law of delict. The law of delict will play an important role in determining who will be liable for the damages, if any. If the damages were caused due to the intentional or negligent conduct or omission of somebody else (the third party), the third party would be liable for the damages the car owner suffered. The third party is, however, not without a few defences, but that falls outside the scope of this article.
An important legal doctrine to be observed in litigation is the doctrine of subrogation as it applies in the law of indemnity insurance. It is an accepted principle of indemnity insurance law that when an insurer fully indemnifies an insured party in the case of loss caused by a third party, the insurer has a claim against the third party in the name of the insured. The policy behind this doctrine is to prevent the insured party from receiving double compensation from both the insurer and the third party.
From a procedural point of view, the insurer obtains the right to institute legal proceedings against the third party in the name of the insured party if the insured party still has an unsatisfied claim against the third party. This principle allows the insurer to become dominus litis (master in the proceeding), but only in name and on behalf of the insured party. The insurer becomes entitled to conduct the proceedings in the name of the insured party, provided that the insurer has fully indemnified the insured party and has also indemnified the insured party against the risk of legal costs which may arise from the proceedings. The insurer has no independent claim against the third party, but simply enforces the claim of the insured party for the insurer’s own benefit.
In summary, the car owner will be able to hold the third party liable irrespective if he/she has insurance or not. If the car owner has insurance they will be able to claim the damages from the insurance. If he/she does, the insurance will be able to recover the loss in the name of the insurer from the third party. The relationship between the insured and the insurance is a contractual relationship and if any party fails to perform in accordance with the agreement, that party will be liable for breach of contract.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).