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IPod Not Deemed "A Meaningful Factor" In Pedestrian Collision

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, addressing the issue of fault for a collision involving a pedestrian who was listening to music on an iPod when he was struck by a transit bus.

In last week’s case (Whelan v. BC Transit) the Plaintiff was injured when a BC Transit Bus ran over his foot.  The parties agreed on the value of the claim but each argued the other was to blame.  The trial proceeded on the issue of fault.

The Plaintiff “was listening to music on his iPod by means of its earbuds” as he was walking on the sidewalk.  He decided to step briefly onto the curb lane of the street in order to walk around other pedestrians.  As he did so he was struck from behind by a BC Transit bus which was leaving the curbside moving forward to merge with traffic.  The Plaintiff “did not hear the bus before it struck him“.

The Court ultimately found both parties were to blame for the impact.  The Plaintiff for stepping out into the street when it was unsafe to do so and without the right of way, the Defendant for failing to see the Plaintiff who was there to be seen.  The Court found the Plaintiff more culpable allocating 60% of the blame to him.  Interestingly the Court did not consider his listening to music and failing to hear the bus to be a significant factor.  In reaching the split of fault Mr. Justice Schultes provided the following reasons:

[72]         As was obvious from my earlier comments in this discussion, Mr. Whelan was himself contributorily negligent in this accident. In addition to his disregard for the bus’s right of way and his needless decision to place himself onto the travelled portion of the roadway simply to avoid a moment’s pause in his progress, he made an assumption that was even less grounded in objective fact than Mr. Kobbero’s — that the driver checking his shoulder meant that the bus would have moved into the left lane before it reached the area where he stepped off the sidewalk.

[73]          I do not find his use of an iPod to be a meaningful factor in this analysis though. His negligent decision to step onto the road was caused by impatience and a faulty assumption about the actions of the bus driver, and not by any reduction in his ability to hear his surrounding environment…

[75]         I would characterize Mr. Kobbero’s lapse of care in conduct as falling more towards the momentary or minor end of the spectrum than towards the extremely careless end. I have found that it was a decision to focus his attention fairly briefly on an admittedly more pressing task, based on the faulty assumption that there were no risks directly ahead of him. This was not the kind of lapse that was inevitably going to cause harm; it required a pedestrian to do one of the foolish things that Mr. Kobbero has been trained to expect in order for that to happen. I conclude that Mr. Kobbero should bear 40% of the liability for this accident.

[76]         Mr. Whelan’s actions conversely, demonstrate a higher degree of carelessness. As a pedestrian he was extremely vulnerable to the oncoming bus and there were no safe circumstances under which he could have stepped on the road with it still moving forward in that curb lane. It was in essence a gamble on things playing out as he assumed they would, with a large downside, fortunately only a small part of which materialized here, to being wrong. Accordingly I fix his liability at 60%.

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