You can bet on it that your car insurance company will investigate whether the smooth tyres on your car caused the accident that lead to your insurance claim. This will most likely be the case where there appears to be no other contributing factors to the accident and you merely slid off the road at a corner or turn on the road.
Why can they do this?
Most car insurance policies will stipulate that cover is provided only with the understanding and warranty by the vehicle owner that the vehicle is to be maintained and operated in a roadworthy condition.
This does however not allow the car insurer to dismiss every single claim just because the tyres might be a bit on the smooth side. There needs to be a causal link between the breach of warranty by the vehicle owner and the insured’s loss.
This can be illustrated with 3 examples of actual decisions by the Ombudsman for Short Term Insurance
Examples of Smooth Tyres / Roadworthiness and car insurance claims
The Insured entered a traffic light controlled four-way intersection at a speed of 50 to 60 Kms. per hour. The green light was in his favour and just before he entered the intersection, an Isuzu white Bakkie entering the intersection from the opposite direction executed a turn to the lsuzu’s right, i.e. across the direction of travel of the Insured.
The Insured applied brakes slightly and noticed that the light was still green for him. To his surprise a Mazda 323 followed the manoeuvre of the Isuzu Bakkie and a collision occurred. The Insured’s Toyota collided with the Mazda’s left rear door.
The Insurer rejected liability on the ground that the two front tyres were smooth and that liability is excluded as a result of “damage to the vehicle caused by or attributable to an unroadworthy condition of the vehicle”.
- Ombudsman’s response
The Ombudsman pointed out that having regard to the circumstances of the collision, the smooth tyres had no causal connection to the collision and the subsequent damage to the complainant’s vehicle. The Insurer was persuaded to meet the claim.
[Source: Ombudsman Newsletter : 03/04]
Example 2 Unroadworthy vehicle – tyre tread not meeting requirements
The insured was travelling on the R21, which is a dual carriageway in each direction with a grass lane separating the two directions of travel. Because it was already after 20:00, the traffic was quiet. He was travelling at an approximate speed of 110km per hour because he wished to remain in sight of his wife who was following him. The road surface was dry and visibility good. He suddenly became aware of dust/smoke, and in order to escape the total blockage of his front view, he swerved to his right-hand side. He clipped the right rear corner of a truck in front of him which resulted in his bonnet flying open. This totally blocked his view. All this happened so quickly that he did not have time to brake.
Immediately after the aforesaid collision, the airbag inflated and all he could do was to take his foot off the accelerator and the car ultimately overturned.
Significantly, the car travelling immediately behind the insured was also caught in the emission of dust/smoke and he too swerved to his right-hand side, but collided with the insured’s wife’s vehicle. (His wife had in the meantime pulled over to the right hand lane in order to overtake the vehicle behind the insured). The insurer rejected liability because the left front tyre did not have sufficient tread on it.
- Ombudsman’s response
The Ombudsman pointed out that at a speed of approximately 110km per hour the insured was covering approximately 31 metres per second. Generally, the Courts accept that the driver has a one second reaction time, and based on the facts as related by the insured, a full tread on the left front tyre would not have avoided the collision. The insurer was persuaded to admit the claim.
[Source: Ombudsman Newsletter : 04/04]
Example 3 Rear tyres did not have a proper tread situation
The insured was travelling from Cavendish Square in Claremont, Cape Town, to his home in Fish Hoek, along the M3 freeway.
Just before the Tokai turnoff, a drunken pedestrian was illegally on the freeway and stumbled and ran into the road just missing a 4 x 4 Toyota. The insured swerved, braked heavily to try and avoid the pedestrian, but he ultimately collided with the pedestrian who survived the collision.
The insurer rejected liability because both rear tyres had tread below the legal limit, and it was a condition of the policy that a vehicle had to be in roadworthy condition. The insured did not accept the aforesaid allegation, and the insurer then requested the AA to supply it with a report, which confirmed that both rear tyres were found to be unroadworthy.
- Ombudsman’s response
The policy issued to the insured contained a specific condition that the vehicle be kept in a road worthy condition at all times in terms of the Road Traffic Ordinance. The tyre tread depth did not meet the requirements. The insurer’s decision was not based entirely on the policy condition, but also on the fact that the collision may have been avoided and the damages lessened had the vehicle tyres been in a good condition. Based on the facts, the Ombudsman concluded that the insurer was entitled to maintain the rejection.
[Source: Ombudsman Annual Report 2003]
Conclusion and Advice
From these examples it is clear that the car insurance claim could be dismissed if there is a causal link between the non -roadworthiness of the tyres, the accident and the resulting damage from an accident.
We would like to urge all vehicle owners to pay close attention to tyre safety – not to have car insurance claims paid – but rather to avoid accidents, loss of life and injury!!