One accident, two claims – who was at fault?

22 May 2020

A head-on collision occurred on a straight road with 1 lane in each direction. The driver of each vehicle brought a claim against the other driver alleging they were at fault for the accident. Both vehicles were insured by the same CTP insurer. The matter proceeded to a joint liability trial in the Brisbane Supreme Court.

In issue

  • The location of the collision.
  • Whether one of the vehicles veered into the opposite oncoming lane.
  • Liability for the accident and contributory negligence.

The background

On 2 July 2015 Mitchell Harris was driving his Mazda Utility in a westerly direction in the southern lane of the dual lane Bribie Island Road from his home on Bribie Island to work. Dane Manton was driving his Mitsubishi Pajero Wagon in the opposite easterly direction in the northern lane of Bribie Island Road from his home to his work on Bribie Island. There was a head-on collision between both vehicles approximately 3km east of the intersection with the Bruce Highway. The collision was not caused by a mechanical defect in either vehicle.

Mr Harris and Mr Manton were the sole occupants of their respective vehicles. Mr Harris had no recollection of the accident. As the two vehicles approached each other, the east-bound line-up was Mr Manton, followed by Kylie McGinn, then Wendy Spicer and then Katrina Hardy. Coming from the east to the west was Lynette Walsh, followed by Mr Harris and then Graeme Creighton.

The same CTP insurer insured both vehicles. Mr Harris and Mr Manton issued separate proceedings in the Brisbane Supreme Court alleging that the other was 100% liable for the accident. It was ordered that both claims be heard together in relation to the issue of liability only.

The decision at trial

At the outset of the trial, the trial judge ordered by consent that the evidence given in each proceeding would stand as evidence in the other proceeding. There was no expert evidence at the trial. Eyewitnesses to the accident and the police forensic investigating officer provided the only evidence at the trial.

Mr Manton alleged that Mr Harris crossed into his lane when it was unsafe to do so and without giving way. In addition to Mr Manton’s own evidence, Ms Walsh, Ms McGinn and Ms Hardy were all called as witnesses in his case. Mr Harris alleged that Mr Manton allowed his vehicle to veer left off the road, before overcorrecting with a sharp right-hand turn that caused his vehicle to travel across the centre line and collide with Mr Harris’ vehicle. The location of the collision was therefore critical in determining liability for the accident.

The trial judge found that based on the photograph evidence it was more likely that the collision between the 2 vehicles occurred at the point where gouge marks appeared on the road entirely within the east-bound lane of Bribie Island Road that was occupied by Mr Manton.

The trial judge also found that the evidence of Mr Manton, Ms Walsh, Ms McGinn and Ms Hardy was clear and consistent in all material respects with each other. It was also consistent with the gouge marks, the distribution of debris, and the resting places of the vehicles as shown in the photographs.

The trial judge found that Ms Spicer and Mr Creighton, the witnesses called on behalf of Mr Harris, were less satisfactory than the evidence given by the witnesses in Mr Manton’s case.

The trial judge found that Mr Harris breached the duty of care he owed to Mr Manton, Mr Manton did not breach the duty of care he owed to Mr Harris, and the collision was not caused or contributed to by any negligence of Mr Manton.

Implications for you

A combination of both objective physical evidence and contemporaneous eyewitness evidence will be critical to the determination of liability in motor accident cases where there are conflicting versions regarding the circumstances of a collision.

Harris v Manton & Anor [2020] QSC 101; Manton v Harris & Anor [2020] QSC 102

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