Road accident lawyers sometimes fall into the lazy trap of thinking that because there’s a problem in a vehicle, negligence is a given. A recent case from the Pacific islands offers a reminder about thinking through causation.
On 12 September 2011, a truck driven by a member of Kiribati Protestant Church on church business hit a young girl who ran across the road. The accident caused her fatal injuries. Because of rain, the vehicle was travelling at 20-30 kilometres (12-18 miles) an hour. The uncontested evidence of the driver was that the child had run in front of the vehicle suddenly. The police investigation found that the truck’s breaks were defective and had to be pumped to operate.
The defendant was charged with dangerous driving causing death: Traffic Act 2002 (Kiribati), §31 –
The driver of a motor vehicle must not drive the vehicle on a road recklessly or in a manner dangerous to persons using the road.
… (c) for an offence causing death – a fine of not more than $2,000 or imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or both.
He was acquitted on the basis that (inter alia) there was no evidence that the defective brakes had contributed to the accident. There had been no time to brake before impact: Republic v Mikaere (Zehurikize J, High Court of Kiribati, 10 November 2016, unreported).
An appeal was lodged on the basis that the verdict was against the weight of evidence, in particular the “finding that the evidence did not establish that the respondent had driven in a dangerous manner by driving when he knew the brakes to be defective”.
The Kiribati Court of Appeal noted the trial judge’s finding that the deceased had run suddenly in front of the truck and that –
The defective brakes played no part in the accident. The respondent had no opportunity to apply the brakes until after impact. We note that when he did so he stopped 10 metres further on, confirming that he was driving at a moderate speed and was able to brake effectively.
The appeal was dismissed.
Attorney-General v Mikaere (Kiribati Court of Appeal, Blanchard, Handley and Hansen JJA, 16 August 2017, unreported)