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Driver Duty of Care (Qld)

Updated on Dec 05, 2022 5 min read 491 views Copy Link

Nicola Bowes

Published in Nov 28, 2022 Updated on Dec 05, 2022 5 min read 491 views

Driver Duty of Care (Qld)

All road users in Queensland have a duty of care to take reasonable care to avoid causing harm to other road users. This means that a driver has a duty of care to other drivers, as well as to their passengers, and to cyclists and pedestrians who also use the road. In addition, the legal duty of care of a driver extends to avoiding foreseeable harm to first responders who attend road accidents. This page looks at a driver’s duty of care in Queensland, with a special focus on the drivers’ duty of care towards emergency personnel.  

Driver duty of care in Queensland

The standard of care required of drivers in Queensland is to take reasonable care to avoid harming or injuring another road user. This does not require that a driver is perfect, but it does mean that a driver must do what a reasonably competent and skilled driver would do in the same circumstances.

Driver negligence in Queensland

Negligent driving is any act or omission that is contrary to how a reasonable person would act in the circumstances. If this negligent driving causes injury or loss, then the injured person can sue the driver for compensation. In order to establish driver negligence, the plaintiff must prove that the driver owed a duty of care, and breached this duty. As all road users owe a duty of care to one another, the central factor in most motor vehicle accidents is the question of whether or not the other driver breached their duty. That is, did the driver take reasonable care to prevent injury to other road users?

Certainly, a driver fails to take reasonable care if they break the Road Rules, such as driving while intoxicated, speeding and reckless driving.

In addition, it is a breach of the duty of a driver to other road users to fail to:

  • Allow sufficient stopping distance from the vehicle in front;
  • Alter speed to reflect the road and weather conditions (irrespective of the speed limit);
  • Give adequate warning to other road users before breaking or changing lanes; and
  • Stop at a stop sign.

In addition, a driver has a continuous duty to pay proper attention to the road. There are many things that can distract a driver’s attention, from technological devices like mobile phones to children fighting in the backseat. Driver distraction can lead to accidents and injuries. According to the Department of Transport and Main Roads, in Queensland, an average of 29 people are killed, and 1,284 are seriously injured every year because of crashes caused (at least partially) by driver distraction.

Duty of care to rescuers

Whilst it is well understood that a driver must consider other road users, it has only been recently clarified that Queensland drivers also owe a duty of care to emergency personnel who attend an accident caused by driver negligence. In AAI Limited v Caffrey [2019], a Queensland Police Officer developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after attending a fatal single-vehicle accident. The driver crashed his car into a tree after speeding and while intoxicated with marijuana, amphetamine and methamphetamine. Following the accident, the officer began to drink to excess and suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. He was declared unfit to continue working as a police officer and was discharged on medical grounds.

The officer successfully pursued a Workers’ Compensation Claim. He also sued the deceased driver’s Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurer under the Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994. This suit alleged that the driver had a duty of care to the plaintiff as it was foreseeable that his negligent driving could expose a first responder to a psychiatric injury. The central issue in the case was whether Australian tort law recognised the entitlement of a rescuer (such as a police officer) to damages for psychiatric injury. The defendant argued that police officers, by virtue of their occupation, should be exempt from entitlement because they are regularly exposed to highly distressing incidents.

The trial judge found for the plaintiff in the amount of $1,092,947.88. The CTP insurer appealed on the basis that a driver could not owe a duty of care to a person who suffers purely psychiatric injury when their work requires them to attend distressing accidents. The defence argued that members of the public are entitled to expect police officers to be trained to avoid psychiatric harm. The defendant also urged the court that a judgment for the plaintiff would open the floodgates for any emergency or medical personnel to make claims against those involved in accidents, when the appropriate course of action was for the personnel to pursue recompense through their employer’s liability (e.g. WorkCover). The Queensland Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the trial judge, underscoring the reality of a driver’s duty of care to others, including first responders. Contact our experienced solicitors on 1300 636 846 for any advice on a driver’s duty of care in Queensland. Our team can provide assistance with any legal matter.

Published in

Nov 28, 2022

Nicola Bowes

Solicitor

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2020.
Nicola Bowes

Nicola Bowes

Solicitor

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2020.

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