March 30th, 2010
When two vehicles enter an uncontrolled intersection at approximately the same time and a collision occurs, how do you determine who’s at fault? Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, discussing this area of the law.
In today’s case (Vagramov v. Zipursky) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2004 car crash in Vancouver, BC. The Plaintiff entered an uncontrolled intersection and collided with the Defendant’s vehicle which was attempting to cross the intersection at the same time. Mr. Justice Gaul found that the Defendant was 100% responsible for the collision. In doing so the Court provided the following useful summary of some of the legal principles that come into play in BC uncontrolled intersection crash lawsuits:
 The Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318 [MVA], governs the manner in which automobiles are driven on the roadways of our province. Section 144 of the MVA deals with the issue of careless driving, stating:
(1) A person must not drive a motor vehicle on a highway
(a) without due care and attention,
(b) without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway, or
(c) at a speed that is excessive relative to the road, traffic, visibility or weather conditions.
 Section 173(1) of the MVA sets out the statutory rules of the road for vehicles that approach an uncontrolled intersection of the nature present in the case at bar. That section provides:
Except as provided in section 175, if 2 vehicles approach or enter an intersection from different highways at approximately the same time and there are no yield signs, the driver of a vehicle must yield the right of way to the vehicle that is on the right of the vehicle that he or she is driving.
 The law relating to the duties of motorists as they approach uncontrolled intersections was set out in the seminal case of Walker v. Brownlee,  2 D.L.R. 450 (S.C.C.) [Brownlee]. The following observations of Mr. Justice Cartwright, at 461, are apposite to the case at bar:
While the decision of every motor vehicle collision case must depend on its particular facts, I am of the opinion that when A, the driver in the servient position, proceeds through an intersection in complete disregard of his statutory duty to yield the right-of-way and a collision results, if he seeks to cast any portion of the blame upon B, the driver having the right-of-way, A must establish that after B became aware, or by the exercise of reasonable care should have become aware, of A’s disregard of the law B had in fact sufficient opportunity to avoid the accident of which a reasonably careful and skilful driver would have availed himself; and I do not think that in such circumstances any doubts should be resolved in favour of A, whose unlawful conduct was fons et origo mali.
 Another oft-cited case in the area of the duty of servient drivers is the Manitoba Court of Appeal decision in Scheving v. Scott (1960), 24 D.L.R. (2d) 354 (Man. C.A.) [Scheving]. In his written reasons for a unanimous court, Mr. Justice Schultz articulates the appropriate principles to follow in cases such as the one presently before the court, at 358-359:
I think it fair to infer that this provision [the section of the Manitoba Highway Traffic Act that is similar to s. 175(1) of the BC Motor Vehicle Act] was made for the purpose of controlling automobile traffic, the speed of which makes impractical and ineffective a rule giving priority to whichever vehicle first reaches an open intersection. It need hardly be emphasized that inevitably there is confusion and great danger inherent in races to get to such an intersection, underlining the necessity for the present right-of-way rule. The word “approximately” as used in the above subsection means “about” or “nearly” and is the direct opposite of “exactly” or “precisely”. Therefore a vehicle approaches an intersection “at approximately the same time” as another vehicle if it approaches slightly before or slightly after such vehicle. Because the vehicle from the left reaches the intersection first — momentarily or a fraction of a moment ahead of the vehicle from the right– it cannot be said that the vehicle from the right has not approached it at “approximately” the same time.
What may be referred to as the old rule — that the car first reaching the intersection has the right-of-way — may properly be applied under certain circumstances. Thus, When the vehicle on the left reaches an open intersection substantially in advance of the vehicle on the right, i.e., where the vehicle on the right is at such a distance and travelling at such a speed that there is no reasonable danger–no apparent danger–of collision to be apprehended if the driver on the left proceeds into the intersection, then, under such circumstances, the driver on the left can with safety and with reason proceed into the intersection. However, it is obvious that under such circumstances, there being no question of precedence involved, there is no question of right-of-way involved either.
Prior entry into an intersection does not mean priority by a matter of a few feet or by a fraction of a second ahead of another vehicle; it means entry into an intersection with the opportunity of clearing it without obstructing the path of another vehicle under normal circumstances. “Who hit whom” is not the test. The driver on the left, even though he may reach the intersection first, must yield the right-of-way to the driver on the right where they approach the intersection so nearly at the same time that there would be imminent hazard of collision if both continue the same course at the same speed.