Single vehicle accident – causation – defect

compensation law casenotes

On 26 June 2015, the plaintiff was involved in a single vehicle accident when the car she was driving slid off a gravel road, causing her to suffer severe injuries. 

The vehicle was owned by the defendant who operated a backpackers’ hostel where the plaintiff was staying. The defendant allowed the vehicle to be used by hostel residents.

The plaintiff contended that the defendant owed a duty of care, whether under common law or under a contract, to ensure the vehicle was defect-free. The plaintiff alleged the vehicle did not have a working speedometer which caused or materially contributed to the accident.


The plaintiff’s claim was dismissed.


The defendant owed the plaintiff a common law duty of care to ensure the vehicle would be property maintained such that it could be safely driven. There was no similar duty owed under contract as the contractual relationship did not extend to the provision of a vehicle.

The court was satisfied that the speedometer was not working prior to the accident and that the defendant ought to have been (but was not actually) aware of this. The court went on to conclude that the accident was caused by the plaintiff driving too fast to maintain control of the vehicle around a bend. However, the court was not satisfied that any defect associated with the absence of a working speedometer caused, or materially contributed to, the accident.


In this regard, the plaintiff’s evidence that she made decisions about the suitable speed based solely on the speedometer, was rejected. The court emphasised that a driver must drive to the conditions, taking into account a variety of factors.

In the circumstances, the court found that, had the plaintiff had a working speedometer and known her precise speed, she would not have changed her manner of driving. On this basis, the defendant’s breach of duty in loaning the car to the plaintiff without a working speedometer did not cause, or materially contribute to, the accident.

This compensation law casenote appears courtesy of Travis Schultz & Partners (TSP), where the author, Hugh Powell, is a Partner. As part of the firm’s commitment to providing ongoing legal education, TSP practitioners review relevant judgments and prepare case summaries for the legal profession. A free searchable catalogue of compensation law casenotes is available at (registration required). The full version of the judgments can be found at

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