You get into a mishap while driving. It happens to even the best of drivers. It’s not your fault, it was the other driver. You have an open and shut case. Ah. but you are in Costa Rica.
“I have the case won.” That is the attitude with which many drivers on the legal proceedings for road crashes.
However, this excess of confidence, ignorance of the traffic matter or even naivety of the drivers, can be very disadvantageous in court and expensive.
In Costa Rica, drivers must present evidence before Traffic Courts to prove the other driver’s guilt; Traffic officer sketches (a croquis in Spanish), photos and witnesses are essential even in cases that seem simple.
If the guilt cannot be proven, through the presentation of evidence or witnesses confirming their testimony and demonstrating the responsibility of the other driver, vehicle owners are exposed to running out of the possibility of collecting damages from the person responsible for the crash
Such an omission can cause innocent drivers to bear the total costs of repairing their vehicle. In the case of having an insurance policy, they will have to pay the deductible and risk an increase in their premiums.
For this reason, in traffic court processes, all involved must be considered guilty, and therefore present evidence of their innocence and the responsibility of the other.
This is the recommendation of Cristian Sánchez, coordinating judge of the San José Transit Court.
Sánchez told La Nacion, “Offering evidence is extremely important in this area. Install a camera, which are now more (economically) accessible. Write down the name and number of witnesses, if any. That will ultimately give us a very important probative support because if we start from the fact that we all have adequate morals, people would be responsible, but that does not happen regularly”.
A very clear case that could take a bad turn (no pun intended) in the courts for lack of proof, is that of a driver who disrespects a red light and collides the car that had the right of way. At first, the latter could be confident that the process will be resolved in his or her favor.
“That person can say ‘diay no, I was not to blame, therefore they must condemn the other.’ But it turns out that the other driver is more prepared (espabilado in Spanish), in the negative sense, then offers proof or false testimony. That may entangle the matter, the person who was not initially at fault, runs into the surprise that both parties are acquitted due to doubt,” explained Sanchez.
In such cases, the judges must refer to the traffic ticket issued and the sketch of the official, witnesses, if any.
However, if the doubt persists, the judges will end up absolving the parties or blaming both. If so, each party will end up assuming the repair costs of their vehicles.
“They come here (to court) and say ‘no, it’s that I was stopped behind the vehicle when it backed up ’, or that ‘the vehicles were on the slope and the front car came back and collided mine’, so it’s only the versions of the parties,” said Sánchez.
In the end, if the driver in the right is not prepared, it can become a case of “he said, she said” with the judge having to conclude that either version is possible.
Another misconception of many drivers is that a traffic sentence condemning the other party to pay damages does not automatically trigger the collection from the responsible party.
When the sentence is final, those involved may agree to an out-of-court settlement, otherwise, the affected party will have to go to civil courts to settle the dispute. And if the payment still does not prosper, many cases end up in the collection courts.
In the event that both vehicles involved have insurance (other than the Marchamo), the insurers settle their affairs, including getting the deductible paid and the responsible driver(s) sees their premiums go up.
However, the process becomes much more complex when the driver responsible has no insurance.