Negligent driving is one of the most common major traffic offences in Australia, behind drink driving. Combining the two can lead to horrific consequences.
In one tragic case, an intoxicated P-plater caused the death of his best friend and inflicted severe brain damage upon another passenger when he veered off the road and collided with a culvert.
The severely incapacitated passenger, 16-year-old Charles Pallier, brought a case against the driver Trent Solomons for damages. The initial court awarded Mr Pallier $1.6 million, but this has now been reduced this by 10%.
The incident occurred on 4 October 2009, when Solomons and four housemates hosted a party at their Tamworth home. They were celebrating the NRL grand final when one of them became upset about his laptop being damaged. He allegedly said: “anyone who’s not meant to be staying here, get the F out of my house.”
When Solomons offered to drive three of the guests home, they asked if he was alright to drive. Solomons said that he was, and commenced driving them home at around 10.45pm.
About half an hour into the trip, Solomons veered from the road and crashed just next to the roadway. His best friend Daniel Bailey was killed, while Mr Pallier was catapulted out of the vehicle, hitting his head on the roadway.
Solomons told an attending police officer:
“I was just trying to scare them, I just went to take out a guidepost. I didn’t know the ditch was there. I’ve killed me best mate, that should be me in there.”
Negligent Driving and Drink Driving
Negligent driving includes things like driving with excessive speed, failing to keep a proper lookout and not indicating when changing lanes.
Negligent drivers who cause death or grievous bodily harm can face harsh penalties, including lengthy terms of imprisonment.
Everyone knows that drink driving is a serious offence, especially when it comes to P-platers who are required to have a zero blood alcohol concentration (BAC). According to an expert in Solomons’ case, his BAC was 0.07 at the time of driving, which would have put him in the low range drink driving category if he had a full licence.
Pallier Held to be Partly Responsible for Own Injuries
Those who commit criminal offences – such as negligent driving occasioning death or GBH, and drink driving – can face additional monetary penalties in the civil courts.
When Solomons’ case went before Justice Meagher of the Supreme Court, His Honour found that:
“By travelling in the car the respondent was running the risk of serious injury or worse due to the driver’s impaired capacity.”
Accordingly, Pallier was found to be partly responsible for his own injuries.
This is called ‘contributory negligence’ and can lead to a reduced monetary payout.
Section 9(1) of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1965 essentially says that a person’s claim can be reduced in proportion to the part they played in causing their own injuries.
In Justice Meagher’s opinion, Pallier knew, or should have known, that Solomons had consumed alcohol and was on his P-plates. He found that a reasonable 16 year old person in Pallier’s position would also have known that Solomons’ ability to drive safely was affected at the time. He concluded that Pallier’s decision to get into the car amounted to a failure to take reasonable care for his own safety, and was a contributing factor his injuries.
While this may sound harsh, His Honour confirmed that Solomons’ actions were the primary cause of the crash – assessing his responsibility at 90%. As a result, the Judge reduced Pallier’s payout by 10% from $1.6 million to $1,474,256.