Be nice first, then call your lawyer

Be nice first, then call your lawyer

One of the survival techniques I learned as a young female manager back in the days when it was machete country for women in business was that when they start swearing at you, they know they are on the wrong side of the argument. So when a well-dressed male pedestrian banged on my car window and said “You scared the crap out of me, you silly cow” I understood that he was really angry with himself – as well he might have been. He had stepped out right in front of my car in Auckland’s Lorne Street (narrow, inner city, busy) without looking because he was staring intently at the screen of his cellphone.

In anticipation of wayward pedestrian conduct, I was driving carefully at less than 20 km per hour, and my Honda is almost silent at that pace. Nevertheless, I had to brake quite sharply and I had tooted the horn in case he ran me over. I reflected upon my preference that he should have to wash his underwear rather than I should have to wash the blood from under my car. No contest there: I have a metallic gold car specifically so that I don’t have to wash it more often than four times a year (well, that’s not quite truthful – more likely twice a year). I was tempted to tell him that he looked quite cute when he was angry (he did) but thought better of it and we both went on our ways home, me with a bit of a chuckle and he with laundry on his mind as well.

Those of you who sensibly don’t work in a CBD, probably don’t realise the way city drivers are exposed several times every day to this kind of danger. It seems to have got a lot worse in the last three or four years – attack pedestrians (those who eyeball you and then dare you to run them over), the absent minded (they stare at you but don’t seem to focus because their minds are elsewhere), the distracted who are usually looking at their cellphones or dancing to their MP3 players and those who think they know the road rules and you must be wrong. Their state of mind doesn’t matter: they’re a long time dead.

So what does a lawyer like me think when faced with these near accidents? Well, the first reaction (at least if you are not dependent upon court work for your living) is gratitude that you live in New Zealand. Our no-fault accident insurance scheme is unique. It may not keep the injured person in luxury for the rest of his or her life, but it does pay the medical bills and more to the point, it prohibits them suing for damages in relation to their personal injury by accident. Less work for lawyers, but hey! We’re big boys and girls. In any other country, you would have to carry serious public liability insurance merely because you were a driver. On the other hand, there would be nothing stopping me suing a pedestrian who ran me down for the cost of repairs to my car. We would also be looking seriously at contributory negligence – if I had run the chap over, would I have contributed to the damage? So we should toot the horn to alert him (see, I was just being careful, Mr Pedestrian).

But in reality this was of course a classic case of doing the right thing first and worrying about the niceties later. Occasionally, just occasionally, that’s the best thing to do. You can always call your lawyer later…

This article is intended for general information, and should not be relied on as specific legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice relating to your own specific legal problems. Rae Nield can be contacted at

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