Unfortunately, it is all too common for drivers who have been involved in an accident to leave the scene without stopping to provide their details to the other parties. While you are recovering from the shock – or worse, too badly injured to make note of the registration number – the other driver disappears, leaving you with no idea who has caused your injuries. However, if you are involved in an accident where you have been unable to identify the at fault vehicle, you may still be able to bring a claim. This claim will be against the Nominal Defendant.

The Nominal Defendant is a Queensland government body which steps into the place of a CTP insurer when an accident involves an unidentified or unregistered vehicle. However, there are additional steps you will need to take and strict timeframes you will need to adhere to when bringing a claim against the Nominal Defendant for an accident involving an unidentified vehicle.  

It is essential to remember that if a claim against an unidentified vehicle is not brought within 9 months of the date of the accident, it is statute barred and cannot proceed. In addition, you must be able to show that you made reasonable efforts to identify the other vehicle involved.

Proper Search and Enquiry – The Law 

When bringing a claim against the Nominal Defendant for an accident involving an unidentified vehicle, a claimant must first show that they have undertaken proper search and enquiry to identify the responsible vehicle. While what is considered reasonable will vary depending on the circumstances of the case, the courts will generally expect claimants to make their best efforts to identify an at fault vehicle, both at the time the accident occurred and in the days and weeks that follow.  

Establishing that proper search and enquiry has been undertaken is essential when bringing a claim against the Nominal Defendant involving an unidentified vehicle. If a claimant fails to establish this, the claim fails.  

The requirements for establishing proper search and enquiry may be less strictly enforced when someone is seriously injured, as this renders them less capable of taking note of the relevant details at the time of the accident. However, there are still minimum steps injured people must take following an accident to ensure the success of their claim.  

The courts have found both for and against Plaintiffs on this issue, and decisions will vary depending on the specific circumstances of the accident.  

Murray v Nominal Defendant [2014] QDC 144  

In this case, the defendant’s vehicle impacted the claimant’s vehicle in a McDonald’s drive thru. The passenger got out of the car to inspect the damage and saw the number plate of the defendant’s vehicle was damaged and couldn’t be read. The parties subsequently argued, before the Plaintiff exited the drive-thru and parked. The at fault driver then proceeded to drive away. The Plaintiff’s passenger yelled out, so the at fault driver reversed alongside her before performing a U-turn and driving away. No one had taken down the registration details of the at fault vehicle.   

The Plaintiff took the following steps to identify the vehicle:- 

  • His solicitor contacted McDonald’s the day after the accident, to request CCTV. However, they were informed that the recording system was not operating at the time of the incident. 
  • Lodged a Report of Traffic Incident to Police at the police station nearest to where the accident occurred; and
  • Published a notice in the Courier Mail newspaper six months after the accident calling for witnesses.  

Nothing came of these enquiries.  

The court found that the claimant had more than sufficient time to take down the details of the other vehicle. For example, the driver could have exited his vehicle to take down the registration details; the passenger who spoke to the at fault driver could have requested their details, they could have asked McDonald’s employee or other customers if they saw the registration number.  

As a result, the court dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim against the Nominal Defendant.

Ford v Nominal Defendant [2023] QCA 83 

This case involved a motorcycle rider who hit a piece of timber which fell off the back of an unidentified vehicle travelling ahead of him. The jolt of hitting the timber caused the Plaintiff injuries. 

At first instance, the trial judge found that the Plaintiff did not undertake proper search and enquiry and dismissed the claim. The trial judge was of the view that the Plaintiff had not discharged this obligation as he had not attempted to follow the other vehicle following the incident, had failed to return to the accident site on subsequent days to try and identify the vehicle driving past, had not undertaken reconnaissance in the streets around the accident site, and had not placed notices seeking information in the letterboxes of nearby properties.  

The trial judge’s decision was overturned on appeal. The appellate court recognised the following:- 

  • That the Plaintiff may not have been aware immediately post-incident that the jolt had given rise to a compensable injury, thus making it unreasonable for him to try and pursue the other vehicle.  
  • Proper enquiry and search does not require a Plaintiff to pursue an at fault vehicle to ascertain and remember its registration.  
  • Returning to the scene of the incident on subsequent days was unlikely to yield any results. 
  • Undertaking a physical search of the surrounding streets was also unlikely to be productive. 
  • A Plaintiff is not obliged to engage in an obviously fruitless exercise to satisfy the test.  

The trial judge’s decision was overturned on appeal and the Plaintiff’s claim against the Nominal Defendant was allowed.  

While the above decisions show that establishing proper search and enquiry will depend on the circumstances of each individual case, there are minimum steps claimants should take to ensure the success of their claim.  

Investigations need to be undertaken as soon as possible after an accident involving an unidentified vehicle. It is therefore essential that injured people consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to protect their rights.

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