12 March 2021

Driver behind fatal car crash must pay $300,000 to survivor

| Albert McKnight
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ACT Law Courts

Dannielle Benning has sued Jamie Richardson over a fatal 2014 crash in north Canberra. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The driver behind a fatal crash that happened almost 10 years ago must pay $300,000 in damages to a surviving victim.

After a night out drinking in Belconnen, concreter Jamie Richardson was four times over the legal limit when he got behind the wheel and crashed a car into a tree in February 2014.

Passenger Dannielle Michelle Benning, aged 22 at the time of the crash, survived with injuries, but tragically her close friend Glenn Paul Dunster died.

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Ms Benning sued Richardson seeking damages over the crash, saying it was caused by his negligence.

Justice Michael Elkaim mostly ruled in her favour, as outlined in an ACT Supreme Court judgement.

The three had driven to the Lighthouse Pub on 1 February and drank through the evening, with Ms Benning saying they planned to get a taxi home and leave her car parked there overnight.

They left the pub about 1:30 am and got into her car with Richardson driving, then drove down William Slim Drive (now called Gundaroo Drive) before hitting a tree when travelling at about 65 km/h.

Ms Benning hit her head on the front windscreen and was put into an induced coma. She reportedly began suffering from migraines after the crash and has lifelong injuries to her ankles.

While Ms Benning was intoxicated at the time of the crash, Richardson was found to have a blood alcohol reading of 0.19, around four times the legal limit, two hours after the crash.

In 2016, Richardson was convicted over charges of culpable driving causing death and causing grievous bodily harm.

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Richardson claimed Ms Benning had grabbed hold of the Mazda’s steering wheel and turned it sharply to the left so the car crashed into the tree.

Also, she was not wearing a seatbelt.

But in Justice Elkaim’s judgement, he did not accept the claim Ms Benning had “ripped” the wheel out of Richardson’s hands and described Richardson as “a most unimpressive witness”.

“This is not based on his demeanour but rather on the manner in which he gave a number of answers, especially those in which he seemed to treat offences of drink-driving as more an indication of bad luck at being caught than having any element of the protection of road users,” he said.

He also said Richardson was “not averse to lying”.

“When the police arrived, he informed an officer that he had not been the driver of the vehicle,” Justice Elkaim said.

“He even pointed to the direction in which the ‘phantom’ driver had fled.”

But Justice Elkaim did find there was “contributory negligence” on Ms Benning’s part, because the public servant had not worn a seatbelt and had entered the car with an intoxicated driver.

Justice Elkaim said the total damages would have been $460,000 to cover general damages, medical expenses, economic loss and domestic assistance, but he reduced the amount by 35 per cent to $300,000 to take into account his findings of contributory negligence.

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Capital Retro1:22 pm 12 Mar 21

That’s unusual that the driver has to pay personally. Usually, the compulsory liability insurance covers that.

Well yes the CTP provider pays the compensation and not the actual driver

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