You caused a car accident; can you claim compensation?

Accidents happen to many of us at some point – and sometimes you may be responsible. Many people involved in road accidents are entitled to receive compensation to cover any medical expenses, lost wages and other damages incurred. But if you're responsible for a car crash, are you still entitled to receive compensation?

Well, it depends. If you cause a motor vehicle accident, you don’t have to be left on your own to deal with it. While you can’t claim compensation for an incident that you’re technically at fault for, you might be eligible for statutory benefits.

Compensation schemes vary between states, but overall, as a society, Australia invests in and supports people who have had something bad happen to them. This means there is legislation in place to help get on with your life after a car accident.

An inevitable accident

It’s the first question we ask when an accident happens: Whose fault was it?

But the answer isn't always simple. Just because an incident indicates you’re at fault, it doesn't mean you were negligent. For example, an unexpected health issue might cause you to crash – but also be considered unavoidable.

Declan* was involved in a serious car accident when another driver drove full speed down the wrong side of the road. But the other driver was having a heart attack, so the accident was unavoidable rather than negligent.

This is termed an ‘inevitable accident’ and, without the no-fault benefits scheme that exists in some states, both Declan and the other driver could have been left without any medical expenses covered or other benefits paid. That would be wildly unjust.

What to do if you’re at fault

If you find yourself injured when you’re the cause of an accident, there are steps you need to take to access your entitlements:

  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible after the accident.
  • Report the accident to the police. In some states, such as Victoria, you’ll need to do this to lodge a claim.
  • Lodge the claim with your state’s statutory insurer. Depending on the state and statutory insurer, when your claim is accepted, you might start to receive payments to cover your medical expenses, a component of your lost wages and a lump sum payment (if you’re left with a permanent injury).
  • Make sure all your injuries are assessed. It’s common for just one injury to be looked at during the claims process, however if you have more than one (for example, a psychological injury as well as a broken leg), then you need to make sure this is addressed.
  • Seek legal advice. If you’re injured, getting some legal help can make sure any lump sum payment, medical support or retraining are maximised.

Maximising your benefits

After losing control of his motorbike on a freeway, Jim* had to have a leg amputated. Even though the accident was his fault, he made a claim to the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) in Victoria, which was accepted and meant his medical expenses and lost wages were paid.

However, Jim was unable to return to his previous job as a tradesman, so he sought legal advice about what to do next. We pushed for the TAC to cover vocational rehabilitation for Jim to help get him back to work, which they agreed to.

Without legal assistance, Jim may not have received this benefit. It's common for insurers to withhold an offer of vocational rehabilitation. And even when it is accessed, there’s a tendency for them to offer something small, such as a four-week training course that frequently doesn't lead to meaningful employment.

We could address what was appropriate for Jim based on his injuries and drawing on his skills, experience and interests. The result was getting the full cost of his teaching degree covered, including his fees and books. Jim now works as a full-time teacher.

For Jim, this means that, although he can’t be working with the tools anymore, he now has the opportunity to continue to contribute to the workforce in a new way.

* Real names have been changed.


Car accident claim

RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Road accident injuries

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Geraldine Collins

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne

Geraldine Collins is a Principal Lawyer in the TAC compensation claims department at Maurice Blackburn, based in Melbourne. She has more than 20 years legal experience in personal injury compensation claims, and was the 2013 National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance. Geraldine is also listed in the prestigious Doyles Guide for her expertise in accident compensation law in Victoria.

Geraldine has experience in all Victorian court jurisdictions, and has a reputation for fighting for…

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