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BC Court of Appeal – Losing Control on Shoulder of Road is Prima Facie Negligence

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal overturning a trial judgement as being ‘clearly wrong’ and finding that when a motorist loses control on the shoulder of a road a prima facie case of negligence is made out.

In today’s case (Gaebel v. Lipka) the Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle operated by the Defendant.  The Defendant drifted on to the shoulder of the road then “lost control, the vehicle fishtailed, crossed the road to the opposite side, travelled up onto an embankment, launched into the air and rolled over three times before landing.”.

The claim was dismissed at trial with a finding the Defendant was not negligent.  The Court of Appeal overturned this finding and provided the following reasons:

[29]         In my view driving onto the shoulder and losing control of the vehicle gives rise to a prima facie inference of negligence. On this evidence, the only reasonable inference that can be drawn was that Mr. Lipka drove on the shoulder either because of a lack of attention or because he approached the curve too fast, or both.

[30]         Once a prima facie case of negligence is proven, the onus shifts to the defendant to rebut the inference through the defence of explanation. A defence of explanation is an explanation of how the accident may have happened without the defendant’s negligence: Singleton v. Morris, 2010 BCCA 48 at para. 38.

[31]         In this case, Mr. Lipka has advanced no explanation as to how the accident may have occurred absent negligence on his part. The lack of an explanation distinguishes this case from cases such as Singleton and Nason, in which the trial judges found the prima facie case of negligence had been rebutted.

[32]         In the result, I find the respondents are wholly liable for Mr. Gaebel’s damages.

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