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Types of intent that affect your car insurance claim

15 August 2018Johannes du Plessis, RBS
Johannes du Plessis, Legal Advisor at RBS.

Johannes du Plessis, Legal Advisor at RBS.

When deciding on whether someone should be covered in the event of a motor vehicle accident, an insurer may decide that a seemingly negligent driver actually acted with intent and should therefore not be covered, and such insurer may apply criminal court judgments to do so.

This is according to Johannes du Plessis, Legal Advisor at RBS (Risk Benefit Solutions Pty Ltd), a Financial Services Broker. Du Plessis comments that consumers could find their vehicle claims rejected by insurers if it can be argued that they acted with intent instead of negligence during a motor vehicle collision.

“Insurance companies do not cover damages caused with intent, but they do cover damages caused by negligence. The legal principles relating to negligence and intent that have been applied in the judgments of high profile criminal court cases such as the Oscar Pistorius and Henri van Breda murder trials, also apply to vehicle accidents. The Civil Court often uses Criminal Court judgments when it comes to determining negligence or intent.”

He adds that it is important to understand that the law differentiates between different kinds of intent. “For example, one of the kinds of intent is intent-by-possibility, the definition of which is very close to that of negligence. This means that deciding whether you deliberately caused an accident, may be open for debate. If any form of intent is present during an accident, an insurer has the right to deny the resulting claim.”

Du Plessis adds that having an understanding of the three kinds of intent, can help to make drivers more mindful of their actions and possible liabilities.

“Direct intent and indirect intent are the forms that are familiar to most people. When a person directly intends to cause damage and succeeds, an insurance policy will not respond. If, for instance, it can be proven that a driver deliberately collided into another vehicle to cause damage to the other vehicle, then direct intent is established.”

Du Plessis explains that indirect intent applies to the secondary consequences in addition to those desired by a perpetrator. “In other words, when a driver directly intends one consequence of his conduct but at the same time has knowledge that another consequence will unavoidably or inevitably also occur. As an example, if it can be proven that a driver deliberately collided into another vehicle to cause damage, but knew that the other vehicle would be pushed into a third vehicle, indirect intent is established with regards to the damage to the third vehicle.”

Du Plessis notes that drivers need to be especially cognisant of the third type of intent identified by the court. “Intent-by-possibility is not always well understood by most drivers, but it is just as important in determining whether you acted intentionally or negligently, and whether you should be covered. Intent-by-possibility is present when you do not desire to cause damage, but foresee the possibility that your actions or inaction may result in damage, and reconcile yourself to this fact.”

He explains that is why drivers may not be covered for seemingly negligent accidents. “If, for instance, you see another driver speeding towards a red light, and you foresee that such other driver is not going to stop, but you do not stop and wait at the green light to avoid a collision, then your inaction constitutes an act of intent-by-possibility.”

In closing, Du Plessis says that drivers can better manage their risks by better understanding their legal obligations. “It is important for drivers to appoint an insurance broker with the necessary knowledge and experience. A broker who is able to assist clients by arguing the correct application of the legal principles of negligence and intent to insurers, can mean the difference between whether a claim is approved or denied,” Du Plessis concludes.

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