Motor Vehicle Accidents | Car Accident | Barwon Community Legal Centre
Quick exit

Motor Vehicle Accidents

The content on this site is information only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact us.

Your rights and responsibilities

Involved in a motor vehicle accident? You will need to understand your rights and responsibilities, especially if neither you nor the other driver have comprehensive car insurance. Find out what information to collect, where to get help and how to make a compensation claim.

What is a motor vehicle accident?

A motor vehicle accident (MVA) involves an accidental collision between a motor vehicle and another object. The motor vehicle may be:

  • Car
  • Truck
  • Bus
  • Motorbike
  • Another form of motorised transport

An object includes

  • Another motor vehicle
  • A bike rider
  • A pedestrian (a person walking along the street)
  • An object that isn’t moving, such as a parked car, tree or stobie pole

The Road Safety Act and Road Safety Rules set out the laws and regulations covering MVAs in Victoria.

Regardless of whether you or someone else, caused the accident, if you’re driving a motor vehicle, you must stop at the scene of the accident. 

You must give help to anyone who needs it, for example calling an ambulance or asking someone else to do so.

If:

  • A person was injured or killed; or
  • There was property damage, and the property owner wasn’t at the scene,

you must report the accident to the Police immediately.

You need to exchange details with the other driver, including:

  • Names and addresses of all people involved
  • Names and addresses of all owners of vehicles
  • Registration numbers of all vehicles
  • As much other information about the vehicles as possible, including make, model, year and colour
  • Name of the insurer (if relevant)

You should also try to take photographs.

If you have comprehensive car insurance, you need to contact your insurer as soon you can, especially if anyone was injured or if there was property damage and the property owner wasn’t at the scene.

It would help if you also made notes as soon as possible after the accident. They should include:

  • How the accident happened
  • The weather and road conditions
  • If there were traffic lights, whether they were red, amber or green at the time of the accident
  • The details of any witnesses

It may also help to take photographs and draw a diagram of the accident. 

Keep your notes in a safe place as they may help you discuss the accident with the Police or your insurer.

You must contact the Police in the event of:

  • Injury; or
  • Death; or
  • Property damage and the property owner isn’t at the scene

No matter how minor the accident, you should also call the Police if your safety is at risk, for example, if the other driver becomes aggressive or violent.

If the accident was your fault, the Police might decide to charge or fine you. They might also require you to undergo breath testing (to check whether you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol).

If fined, you may need urgent legal advice. Contact us for advice or a referral.

Make sure you get the other driver’s details.

Contact the Police if someone was injured, killed, or there was significant property damage.

You will also need to contact your insurer, regardless of whether you’re required to call the Police. Your insurer will need to know:

  • Names and addresses of everyone involved
  • Names and addresses of all owners of vehicles
  • Registration numbers of all vehicles
  • As much other information about the vehicles as possible, including make, model, year and colour
  • Name of the insurers of the other vehicles (if relevant)
  • Your description of how the accident happened
  • Whether there were any traffic lights and the colour of the lights at the time
  • The road and weather conditions
  • Contact details of any witnesses

It will help to collect this information as soon as possible – either at the scene or shortly afterwards. If possible, take photographs of the damage to the vehicles. Also, take photographs of the number plates of all other vehicles involved in the accident.

Your insurer will give you instructions about what will happen next. Often, the insurer will contact the other driver’s insurer and negotiate an outcome without you having to do anything further.

Consider how much money you will need to fix the damage to your vehicle, compared with the insurance excess that you’ll need to pay if you claim the damage on insurance. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fix the car yourself rather than paying a higher insurance excess. However, if you choose to pay for the repairs, you should also consider that you may not be able to get the money back from the other party unless you take legal action against them. Contact us for more information about private legal action.

If you have comprehensive car insurance, collect all the <information you need to provide to your insurer (link to I was involved in a motor vehicle accident and I’m covered by insurance. What should I do?)>. Then contact your insurer to make a claim.

If you don’t have comprehensive car insurance, read our information in the relevant sections below:

  • I was in a motor vehicle accident that wasn’t my fault. I don’t have insurance. What should I do? (link to section)
  • I was in a motor vehicle accident that was my fault, but I don’t have insurance. What should I do? (Link to section)

If you’re involved in an accident that wasn’t your fault, it’s understandable that you want to get some money from the other party to pay for the damage caused. This type of payment is known as damages.

If you don’t have comprehensive car insurance, but the person who caused the accident does have insurance, make sure you get the details of their insurer at the scene of the accident.

You can’t claim against the other driver’s (or owner’s) insurer in the same way as you would if you were claiming under your own policy. The other insurer has no contractual obligations towards you, but it may be willing to negotiate with you. But you don’t have to negotiate, and there are no set timeframes for the insurer to respond to you.

You may need to consider taking legal action against (suing) the other driver (or owner) for damages. Contact us to learn more.

Suppose the person who caused the accident doesn’t have comprehensive car insurance. In that case, you would need to collect all the information outlined in the above section <If I’m involved in a motor vehicle accident, what should I do? (link to section above)>.

It’s crucial that you collect as much information as possible, and write down as many details as you can remember, for example:

  • Details of the other motor vehicle, including the name and address of the other person
  • The registration, model, make and colour of the other motor vehicle
  • Your recollection of the accident, including traffic lights, road and weather conditions
  • A diagram of how the accident happened
  • Details of any witnesses
  • Photographs of the accident scene, the damage to your vehicle and the number plates of the other vehicles involved
  • Police reports (if they’re available)

You will also need to get a mechanic or crash repairer’s quote which sets out the cost of repair. It may be worth getting a report on the pre-accident value of your car, as well as any salvage value. The salvage value is the amount of money you may receive if your car was sold to a salvage yard, instead of being repaired. Subtract the salvage value from the pre-accident value. The result is the amount of damages you may be able to pursue because of the accident.

Do not repair your vehicle before the claim is made.

If you’re not at fault, you can write a letter to the other driver asking them to pay for the cost of repairing the car, and any additional costs, including towing or hiring replacement cars. This is sometimes known as a letter of demand.

If the other driver responds to your letter of demand, they may accept that they owe you money, in which case you can make payment arrangements. If they deny they owe you money, you may need to try mediation to resolve the issue.

Contact us to request an example of a letter of demand. 

For more information about the demand process, see the <BCLS Motor Vehicle Accident Information Kit (insert link to pdf version of document)>.

Mediation is a meeting which you attend with the other driver. A specially trained, independent person, known as a mediator leads the meeting. It’s the mediator’s job to help you both work through the issues and arrive at an agreement. Mediation is often a more effective and less stressful alternative to going to Court.

You can arrange a free and confidential mediation at the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria.

If mediation doesn’t settle the matter, you may need to consider taking legal action. If you want to claim your legal costs from the other driver, you have six years from the date of the accident to commence legal action.

You need to consider this decision carefully. It’s risky to take legal action against an uninsured person. Even if you have a Court Order, if they don’t have the money, there’s little you can do.

We don’t act in Court cases for motor vehicle accidents, but we can give you some advice about your options and we can refer you to another legal service or a private lawyer. Contact us to make an appointment.

Being at fault in an MVA is stressful, but it is even more concerning if you don’t have insurance.

Do not admit liability at the scene of the accident. In other words, don’t admit that the accident was your fault. If you’re concerned that it was your fault, you should get legal advice as soon as possible. 

Once you have swapped details with the other person, you need to wait and see if they send you a letter of demand. If the accident was your fault and you have enough money to pay for the damage, you may wish to consider either:

  • Paying the sum in the letter of demand (you may wish to offer a lump-sum payment or instalment payments);
  • Asking for more information or more quotes; or
  • Paying some other sum

It’s a good idea to get legal advice before you agree to anything. Also, you should make sure you can sign a release document, which says that once you pay the money, you’re released from any further liability.

You can contact us to make an appointment for some legal advice if you’re in this position.

If you receive a letter of demand and disagree with the terms, you need to respond, explaining your reasons. If you disagree with any costs that the other person claims, you must also respond. You could suggest mediation to try and resolve the issues.

Mediation is a type of meeting which you attend with the other person. A trained person, known as a mediator, meets with you both. The mediator is independent and may choose to meet with both parties together, to meet with the parties separately, or a combination. The mediator will decide on the best approach during the mediation.

The mediator will help everyone work towards an agreement. Mediation is often quicker, cheaper and less stressful than going to Court.

You can arrange a free and confidential mediation at the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria.

If the issues aren’t settled by mediation, the other person may choose to take legal action against you for damages. They have six years from the date of the accident to take legal action. 

They will give you or send you a legal document called a Claim. You then have a limited time to answer the claim, in a form called a Defence. It’s an opportunity for you to say why you shouldn’t have to pay damages to the other person.

We are unable to represent you in these situations. You will need legal advice from a private lawyer. Ask us about a referral to a private law firm.

If the other party has insurance and you can’t pay for the damages even though the accident was your fault, you can write a letter to their insurer asking for the debt to be waived. This means that you’re asking for the company set aside the debt and not pursue you for the money.

Other options include offering a lump sum or a payment plan depending on your financial situation.

Contact us for advice about your options.

You may be liable for damages because:

  • You admit the accident was your fault
  • A Court has ordered you to pay damages
  • The other person’s insurer has refused to waive the debt

In any of these circumstances, if you can’t pay the damages, you may need to consider declaring <bankruptcy (link to page Debts and Financial Issues)>.

Bankruptcy is a legal process in which you complete a form declaring that you can’t pay your debts. The advantage of declaring bankruptcy is that it cancels most of your debts. The disadvantages are that:

  • Bankruptcy lasts for three years
  • You’ll have to sell off any assets that are worth money to help pay your debts
  • Your name will be permanently on the National Personal Insolvency Index (NPII),
  • You may have problems securing loans and credit cards

Declaring bankruptcy is a serious step, with significant life-long implications.

Before deciding to declare yourself bankrupt, you should seek financial counselling. For free financial counselling, contact Financial Counselling Victoria, or visit the National Debt Hotline’s website for more information.

<To find out more, see the BCLS Motor Vehicle Accident Information Kit (insert link to pdf kit)>.

Stay on the right side of the law

Understand your rights and obligations after a motor vehicle accident.

Call Us Today

Last modified on December 2nd, 2020 at 11:43 am

The content on this site is information only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact us.