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Motor Insurance
Monday, December 1, 2008
Joint responsibility

Deneys Reitz on insurance case law: Minister of Transport NO v Du Toit 2007
The respondent and her husband were travelling south from Johannesburg on the N1 highway, a route with which neither was familiar. The respondent’s husband was the driver. They reached the Grassmere tollgate at 23:00. On seeing that the booth on the extreme left was open, and believing it was for thorough-traffic, they drove to it and proceeded along the off-ramp, believing it to be part of the highway. The driver picked up speed and then ran out of road. In the husband’s words, he had driven straight through a T-junction down an embankment.
The Supreme Court of Appeal referred to a number of confusing and inadequate road signs on the stretch of road starting from the N1 approaching the tollgate to where the collision occurred. Subsequent to the accident a number of changes to the signage were brought about, which largely remedied the defects which formed part of an expert witness testimony during the trial.
HELD: The driver’s initial mistake in leaving the freeway was largely attributable to the confusing nature of the overhead sign. However, his failure to realise what had happened before his vehicle plunged over the embankment is indicative of a high degree of inattentiveness. Had he merely glanced to his right, he would have seen the highway on the other side of the road barrier and the exit sign on the right of the off-ramp would have been clearly visible. As to the expert’s testimony on the adequacy or not of the road signs, the extent to which his opinions will be accepted by a court depends on whether those opinions are founded on logical reasoning or are otherwise valid.
The authority responsible for erecting road signs and other warnings is not entitled to assume that a driver will read and react to every sign regardless of its nature, size and positioning. A motor vehicle driver must keep a proper lookout and must keep his eyes on the road, particularly at night when his vision is limited. It is not uncommon for even a cautious driver to misread or to react to a road sign. It is therefore imperative, particularly in unlit areas, for road signs to be clear, unambiguous and appropriately positioned, so that they may be read and comprehended at a glance, all the more so where there is a potentially dangerous situation ahead. The court assessed the road authority’s negligence at 20% and the driver’s negligence at 80%.
Comments Deneys Reitz, the fact that changes were effected to the signage subsequent to the accident does not necessarily give rise to the inference that the old signage was inadequate - S v Bochris Investments (Pty) Ltd 1988.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:21.11 1st December, 2008
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