Got in an accident? Be ready for a legal minefield

Everyone paints an idyllic picture of getting a driver’s license and driving your own car.

You’re no longer at the mercy of public transportation. You’ve got the freedom to go wherever you want to go. You have your own private space on wheels where you can sing without judgment to the corniest music. You have a seat that is second only to a recliner. You don’t have to share the air conditioning settings. It’s one of the ultimate forms of personal freedom that’s right up there with moving into your own apartment or getting your first salary.

Don’t get me wrong: that’s all true. But there are things that we need to be aware of beyond just getting driving lessons, checking brochures and specs, and signing those postdated checks. There are a lot of caveats, a lot of which boil down to costs.

You are going to be spending a lot more on things like preventive maintenance service, weekly car washes, parking, fuel, toll, and all the accessories that you added to the card on the last same numbered month/date sale on the many e-commerce platforms. You should also factor in the unexpected like getting a ticket for a violation or getting into a fender bender. Honestly, even if you’re being a good driver, there are times when the wrong stars align, and you get caught for something or just nudge another vehicle. It happens, and you have to be prepared to spend to deal with it.

To be frank, those things aren’t what I’m talking about. If you’re a responsible driver and vehicle owner, you’ll have planned and accounted for all of these things with budgeting and insurance.

What is truly scary is the one thing we can’t fully avoid with absolute certainty: an accident with someone who isn’t in a car. We’ve all heard horror stories of motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians (sometimes jaywalkers) getting into an accident with a vehicle. Lately, with social media and all the CCTVs and dashcams around, we even get to watch.

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Sometimes people laugh at these things but keep in mind that most of the time, someone gets hurt. And that brings up a problem: it’s called Reckless Imprudence Resulting In, well, whatever the result was. Often it’s property damage, sometimes it’s just slight physical injuries, but the worst case is homicide.

Some may be thinking: That’s what the dashcam is for. It’s meant to protect me in such an event. That’s true: if you’re driving safely and following the rules, dashcam footage or even CCTV footage will eventually be strong tools in your defense. But the key word there is “eventually”.

Immediately after the accident, a police officer will take down all the details, ask for statements, and the like. Depending on the circumstances, the driver of the car can spend being detained at the precinct. If you’re really unlucky and it’s on a Friday, then be prepared to spend a weekend there because our justice system takes the weekends off. It goes without saying: be prepared to spend money, time, and a lot of patience… even if it’s not your fault.

You also have to be ready for the eventual lawsuit. Yes, there will be a case filed with a love letter from The People of the Philippines addressed to you. It’s almost automatic, and that’s only the start of your legal problems.

I know this because I received one such love letter about 20 years ago for an accident. It was a minor collision with a guy on a bike on the leftmost lane of Marcos Highway (westbound) in Marikina. I brought the guy to the hospital, shouldered his fees, and for my trouble, I got slapped with Reckless Imprudence Resulting In Physical Injuries. They even shorten it to "R.I.R.I.P.I.". That case has since been dismissed, but I had to get a court clearance when I was applying for an NBI Clearance. It’s a hassle.

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That’s why it’s so unfortunate when you see a driver figure into an accident when he/she is not at fault. Have you seen those videos where a motorcycle crashed into the side of a truck? Have you seen those videos of buses in the EDSA bus lane when a jaywalker suddenly crosses? I’ve even learned of a bizarre story where a driver was waiting at a stoplight and BGC and a motorcycle crashed into the stationary vehicle. The motorcycle rider that caused the accident was killed, but a reckless imprudence case was filed against the car driver for simply being there. That's what it means to be in the wrong place at the worst time. 

I’m no lawyer (though I did want to be, at one point) but the issue is the arbitrary and illogical and application of principles like reckless imprudence, the so-called last clear chance of avoidance, and something called a presumption of culpability. Because there was an accident, the law assumes that you’re at fault because you were not exercising proper care which is why took place. And given car drivers are protected by their vehicles, they have less risk of getting hurt.

Don’t take these as pieces of legal advice; call your lawyer and ask about any such cases he or she may have handled. You don't want to be on the receiving end of one of these cases because it can upend your life even if you didn't do anything wrong.

There are bills filed to try and address and structure these things so as to be fair, but from what we understand are not exactly legislative priorities. Until something is done in terms of a legal framework, it’s just best to be prepared. You should have good insurance for yourself and your car. You should be fiscally responsible and have money in the bank for rainy days. You should also have the number of a lawyer that you can call to consult with or represent you if you ever need to.

This is all just part and parcel of driving in a country where road discipline is optional, enforcement is seasonal, road courtesy is uncommon, and justice is pricey… just like a kilo of onions.