The Defence Of Inevitable Accident In The Context Of Road Accidents
The doctrine of inevitable accident is a significant defence in the law of tort and especially in the area of road accidents. It concerns a situation where a person, exercising due care, diligence and ordinary prudence, could not have foreseen or avoided an accident. Naturally, the burden of proof lies on the defendant raising the defence and the test applied is twofold. The collision of the vehicles must be both, unavoidable and unforeseeable.
Each case is examined separately, on its own merits, by the Courts. It is a popular defence for defendants to deny liability, however, not an easy one to be satisfied. A defendant must prove that, on the balance of probabilities, he suddenly came across a situation where he could not have foreseen and avoided what happened. Often, a defendant argues that, immediately before the collision, he had a blackout because of a sudden illness or condition.
Therefore, he must prove that the illness or condition was indeed sudden, that he could not do something to avoid the accident and that he did not realize before the accident that he had that illness or condition which could cause the particular blackout. It is further necessary to prove that the particular blackout occurred at the specific time right before the accident and that it was the reason which caused the said accident to occur.Cypriot case law on the defence of inevitable accident in the context of road accidents is scarce. Still, it was raised, interestingly, by a defendant in a very recent case of road accident at the District Court of Limassol1. The defendant stated that he suffered from a sudden heart attack or episode and because of that he had a blackout. In support of his defence, he presented to the Court his medical folder, showing a history of cardiac problems and an incident of heart attack which happened many years ago.
The learned Judge however ruled that the defendant did not manage to prove that he had indeed suffered a heart attack or episode at the time right before the accident, neither that the collision was caused by the alleged blackout immediately before the accident. Hence, the Court rejected the defence of inevitable accident without examining the legal aspect of the defence by applying the twofold test as described above concerning whether the accident was unavoidable and unforeseeable.It would be interesting however to see how the twofold test would be applied in practice in this case. In my view, even if the defendant managed to prove that he suffered a heart attack immediately before the accident and that this caused the particular blackout which lead to the collision, still, the defence could not be raised successfully.
This is because of the defendant's history of cardiac problems and bad health condition. The defendant should perceive his health condition as a warning. A warning that, at some time, he could face a heart attack and subsequently a blackout. That could well happen when he was driving. Therefore, it was foreseeable and could be avoided by not driving. By driving, the defendant undertook the risk and responsibility that, when a road accident occurred, he would be responsible for the consequences of his actions, including the compensation of the claimant. I argue therefore that, with the exercise of reasonable care and skill, the specific defendant, with his individual health characteristics described above, could have avoided and foreseen the accident.
11 February 2020
Natasa Demetriou - Lawyer - Senior Associate DEMOCRITOS ARISTIDOU LLC