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Driver who hid bottle of rum after crash loses claim dispute

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A man who crashed his car into several trees while driving in clear weather on a straight, flat, sealed and dry road in Queensland has lost a dispute with his motor insurer.

The driver admitted drinking rum and stashing the bottle by a tree, but says he did so after the collision as he was cold and shaken and wanted to calm his nerves.

Two truck drivers who stopped at the scene said the man claimed he hit a pig, though there was no blood, and the man later told police he swerved to avoid a cow.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) ruled in favour of Youi, which denied the claim on the basis the policyholder was drunk.

“Consumption of alcohol is the only factor that has been identified as potentially contributing to the collision,” AFCA said.

The Youi policy excluded cover for any damage to the car occurring when the driver is under the influence of alcohol or has a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than the legal limit.

AFCA says it considered the man’s version of events but ruled it was most likely the man’s “intellectual faculties were impaired by alcohol at the time of the collision,” especially as his own accounts of the event varied.

“This inconsistency raises doubt as to the true circumstances leading to the collision,” AFCA said.

AFCA says it is unlikely the man would choose to drink a large amount of rum between the time he crashed and the time police arrived “if he was sober”.

“A far more likely explanation for the available evidence is that the complainant was drunk at the time of the collision,” the ruling states.

Police conducted a breath test which showed the man’s blood alcohol count was 0.162% while a blood sample taken a few hours later in hospital showed the complainant’s BAC was 0.146%. The legal limit is 0.05%.

The man was charged with a drink-driving offence, but was not convicted, which he argued meant Youi could not deny his insurance claim.

He says he drank three or four mouthfuls from a one-litre bottle of rum, leaving it about three-quarters full, suggesting he consumed about 250ml between midnight and about 12.30am.

Youi’s consultant pharmacologist said if he had not consumed any alcohol beforehand, his BAC at the time of the hospital blood test would have been no more than 0.084%.

Police could not find the rum bottle, which the man was adamant he had left in front of his car next to the tree he crashed into. Officers later returned to the scene and found it concealed and hidden in scrub land behind a tree about 15 metres away.

Hospital records say the complainant smelled of alcohol, was “a little antagonistic” with police, and was non-compliant, removing a precautionary cervical collar and getting up to walk around.

“Even if I accept that the complainant drank 250ml of rum after the collision, the forensic evidence indicates he also drank alcohol before the collision,” the AFCA ombudsman said.

“I am satisfied that the complainant was driving under the influence of alcohol, and this contributed to the collision. Therefore, the insurer is entitled to deny the claim.”

See the full AFCA determination here.