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“Poor, Homeless and Sick” Plaintiffs Not Negligent For Accepting Ride in Box of Pick Up Truck

While passengers can be found contributorily negligent for riding in the box of a pick-up truck such a finding will depend on the circumstances.  Reasons for judgment were released this week by the BC Supreme Court addressing this.

In this week’s case (Tataryn v. Browne) 14 temporary farm workers were being transported from a rural farm to downtown Kamloops.  Many of the workers were unrestrained in the box of the pick up truck.  The motorist drove negligently leaving the road tumbling down an embankment rolling over several times before coming to a stop.

The driver argued the Plaintiffs were contributorily negligent by agreeing to ride in the box of the truck.   Madam Justice Hyslop disagreed finding that the worker’s had little choice in the circumstances but to agree to the ride.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:

[282]     I think it is obvious that the purpose of the box of the pickup is to carry cargo and not people….

[284]     I have dealt with the circumstances and backgrounds of each of the thirteen workers, I have come to the following conclusions:

1)    Sunshine sought workers who were residing in shelters by posting notices of the work. This was not the first time that they relied on such individuals;

2)    Mr. Goossen, the manager of Sunshine, was familiar with homeless people. He thought that in hiring these people, he was doing a kindness;

3)    Mr. Goossen and his family worked alongside these workers. On the evening of November 17, 2006, Annie, Mr. Goossen and Ms. Ebl performed the same tasks as the plaintiffs, and at the same rate of pay;

4)    The farm on which the work was done was in an unincorporated area, having no public transportation, no street lights, or sidewalks;

5)    On the evening of November 17, 2006, when the workers were to return home, it was late (after 11 p.m.) and dark and cold;

6)    The workers were poor. Most were homeless, on social assistance, and addicted to drugs or alcohol, or both. One plaintiff had a mental health condition for which he was medicated….

296]     Annie controlled the workers’ transportation and she called the shots.

[297]     The workers were poor, homeless, and sick. They were told by Annie if they did not get in the truck they would have to walk home. Walking home was not an option. It was 15 kilometres to the NLM. It was dark. It was cold. There were no sidewalks, and no public transportation. Some, if not all of the workers, were not properly clothed and Mr. Moore needed his medication.

[298]     By necessity, the workers had no option but to be passengers in the truck without seatbelts, either in the cab or the box of the pickup truck.

[299]     These thirteen men and one woman were facing conditions more severe than those facing the plaintiffs in Iannone, Bissky, Massey and Fraser.

[300]     Based on the circumstances facing each of these workers, I conclude that not one of them was contributorily negligent.

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