A car crash with a bitter aftertaste

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Calder at largeMan takes out bank loan to pay for other drivers' repairs, after insurance company wouldn't come to party.

Shiu Narayan is left with huge bills after paying for his father Shiu's car accident. Photo / Greg Bowker
Shiu Narayan is left with huge bills after paying for his father Shiu's car accident. Photo / Greg Bowker

You could forgive Shiu Narayan if the word "insurance" tasted sour in his mouth this morning. The 28-year-old, a New Zealand resident born in Lautoka, Fiji, had a lean Christmas, because he thought he ought to pick up a debt his insurance company declined to cover.

Narayan's story is one to both sadden and gladden the heart; it's laced with the sweet spirit of goodwill befitting the season, but it has a bitter aftertaste.

It begins at about 6.15pm on September 29. Narayan has nearly finished work - he drives a high-tech truck that sweeps up the stones after road resurfacing.

His father, who is also called Shiu Narayan and is visiting from Fiji, is driving his son's car to pick up takeaways for a family dinner.

As he approaches the intersection of May Rd and Mt Albert Rd in Auckland, where two cars wait at a stop sign, Narayan senior has a severe stroke. Instantly paralysed down his right side, he is unable to operate the brakes.

He ploughs into a small Toyota, sending it into the back of a taxi. Nobody is hurt in the collision, but the damage is extensive; the car in the middle is written off.

Your first thought may be for the father's welfare; the news is not good. I can tell as much when, looking gaunt and much more elderly than his 53 years, he greets me on the front porch of the family's modest Mt Roskill unit. He has a warm and welcoming smile but his attempt at "hello" is a consonant-free growl. He accepts my proffered right hand with his left and we sit in awkward silence while coffee is made.

There is very little hope of his recovery, his son tells me later.

"He'll never be able to work so I'll be supporting him financially. It's a big burden."

That burden is bigger than it might have been because of the decision by Narayan's insurer, IAG, not to cover the damage to the two other vehicles.

Narayan's own car was promptly repaired but on October 30, more than a month after the accident, IAG wrote to the driver of the car in the middle to say it wouldn't be paying up.

The "tort of negligence", its letter said, required the damage to be foreseeable. Because the damage that Mr Narayan senior caused "was not foreseeable by either our client or his father, Mr Narayan senior did not act negligently and therefore cannot be held liable for his actions". To put it in plain English: because the driver, paralysed by a sudden stroke, could not have avoided hitting the car in front, he was not negligent.

Narayan says IAG made it plain that it would back him up, in court if need be, if the other drivers tried to get money out of him. But that didn't sit well with him.

"Up to my understanding, they got hit by my car, so it's my responsibility or my father's responsibility to pay for the damage. They didn't do anything."

Shiu Narayan won't mind me saying he is not a wealthy man. He had no spare cash to cover the costs - nearly $6000 - of the other drivers, one a taxi driver who was losing money by being off the road.

They were, perhaps understandably, pestering him for news, he said, and so he took a bank loan to see them right.

"I had no choice," he says. "I couldn't handle the stress with my father sick. It was a big relief."

But his reasons were more than pragmatic: "My parents raised me to believe that if you cause anybody damage or grief you make sure that you put it right and not run away from it. That way if you are walking along the street, no one can say 'that guy hit my car and hasn't paid me yet'."

For Narayan, doing the decent thing hasn't come cheap. The bank loan is costing him $120 a week in repayments. Meanwhile, the district health board is after him for $10,500 for the hospital care of his father, who does not have residency and didn't take out health insurance.

"They want me to pay $200 a week; I've told them I can squeeze out $50. They said that's no good. I'm seeing them about it in the new year,"

Whether IAG's "tort of negligence" argument is correct in law is something Narayan can't afford to pay a lawyer to test. All his money is spoken for just now. He's spent it on accepting the consequences of his father's unwitting actions, on ensuring that he can hold his head high and no one can say he didn't pay his debts.

A spokesman for IAG NZ says the company "stand[s] by the decisions made as fair and in accordance with [its] obligations".

The company, which operates under the NZI, AMI and State brands, reported a $103 million annual profit in August.

- NZ Herald

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