July 31st, 2013
UPDATE June 5, 2014 - This decision was overturned on appeal with the Defendant being found fully at fault
As previously discussed, when an emergency vehicle is responding to a call and is involved in a collision fault does not automatically rest with the other vehicle. All of the circumstances surrounding the collision must be examined. Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Nanaimo Registry, addressing this area of law.
In last week’s case (Maddex . Sigouin) the Defendant was travelling a few car lengths behind the Plaintiff police officer. The Plaintiff detected a speeding oncoming vehicle, activated his lights, and attempted a U-Turn at the approaching intersection. To do so he had to cut across from the left hand lane in which he was travelling, through the designated left had turn lane and into his turn. The Defendant did not have time to react safely, hit his brakes and also turned into the left hand turn lane in the hopes of avoiding contact. Ultimately the Court found both motorists equally responsible for the crash. In reaching this decision Mr. Justice Williams provided the following reasons:
 It is my conclusion that Mr. Sigouin was not paying sufficient attention as he was driving and that he was positioned too close behind the police car, taking into account the speed and the limited maneuverability of his vehicle. By the time he recognized the necessity to react to the police car slowing in his lane, it was too late to safely slow down behind that vehicle. As a result, he was forced into an emergency maneuver which entailed passing the police vehicle. He did not believe it was safe to pass on the right and so he elected to pass on the left which necessitated him moving into the left-turn bay to get past the police car. It is clear that he did not see the flashing emergency lights and react to them in a timely and responsive way. My conclusion that he was not paying sufficient attention is buttressed by the fact that the vehicle he evidently failed to notice was a prominently marked police car displaying flashing lights. It is clear from the evidence that Mr. Sigouin knew that this was a police car because he testified that he made that observation a short time earlier and that he took measures to situate himself so that he was travelling behind that car.
 As for the plaintiff, he initiated a turn, essentially a U-turn, from the number 2 lane. He satisfied himself that could be done safely with respect to the oncoming traffic. However, he appears not to have appreciated that his maneuver could not be safely executed because there was another vehicle following fairly close behind him.
 Further, he initiated his maneuver not from the left-turn bay, but rather from the number 2 lane, a position which made it less apparent that he was going to turn left.
 I accept that the plaintiff was displaying his emergency lights and it would be apparent to any other motorist that he was engaged in some sort of official emergent duties on the roadway. As I indicated earlier, other drivers are expected to yield to such vehicles.
 However, it is abundantly clear from the legislation that displaying emergency equipment, whether lights or lights and siren, does not afford a shield of invincibility or absolute right. Even when an emergency vehicle has that equipment fully deployed, there is an overriding obligation on the operator of the emergency vehicle to ensure that any driving activity be conducted in a safe fashion vis-à-vis other persons on the roadway.
 In the present case, that required the plaintiff to be sure that his U-turn could be executed in safety. He ought to have been aware of the fact that the defendant’s vehicle was following him, fairly close behind; he ought to have checked behind him.
 It is evident that he did not do so.
 In the circumstances, I find that both of the drivers, the plaintiff and the defendant Mr. Sigouin, were negligent in this collision.
 As for allocation of fault, I find each to be similarly responsible, and I apportion liability equally, that is, 50 percent for each of them.