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Single Vehicle Leaving Roadway With No Reasonable Explanation Sufficient to Prove Negligence

Two cases were recently released by the BC Supreme Court addressing negligence in the face of single vehicle collisions involving vehicles leaving the roadway.

In the first case (McKenzie v. Mills) the Plaintiff was injured when she was the passenger in a vehicle the left the roadway.  The Plaintiff had no recall of how the collision occurred.  The Defendant disputed liability arguing there was no sufficient evidence to prove the collision was caused by negligence.  Madam Justice Dorgan disagreed finding that absent a sensible explanation by the Defendant negligence could be inferred.  In so concluding the Court provided the following reasons:

[30]         Crossing the oncoming traffic lane and even losing control to the point of rolling the vehicle does not necessarily give rise to an inference of negligence; in other words, it is not determinative of the issue of liability.  See Benoit v. Farrell Estate, 2004 BCCA 348 where Smith J.A., writing for the court, says at para. 77:

The question whether negligence should be inferred when a motor vehicle has left its proper lane of travel usually arises in cases, like Fontaine, where the driver of the vehicle is sued by a plaintiff injured in the accident.  In such cases, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof.  The inference that a vehicle does not normally leave its proper lane in the absence of negligence by its operator may afford a prima facie case but, if the defendant driver produces a reasonable explanation that is as consistent with no negligence as with negligence, the inference will be neutralized:  see paras. 23-24.

[31]         However, in this case, neither the defendant nor the third party offered evidence of explanation of the cause or circumstances of the accident.  The defendant left her lane of travel (northbound), crossed over the oncoming lane (southbound), and rolled the truck which was found in the ditch of the southbound lane.  The defendant was intoxicated at the scene; she was given a 24-hour driving prohibition as a result; and was charged with driving while subject to a driving restriction.  While her level of intoxication at the scene is not direct evidence of intoxication while driving, there is no evidence of the defendant, or the plaintiff for that matter, drinking after the accident and before the police arrived.  The only reasonable inference to draw is that the defendant was driving while drunk.

[32]         I have concluded the only reasonable inference to draw from the whole of the evidence is that the plaintiff has established a prima facie case of negligence against the defendant.  The defendant offers no evidence of explanation; therefore, the plaintiff has proved liability.

In the second case (Garneau v. Izatt-Sill) the vehicle left the roadway.  There were no witnesses and two of the vehicles occupants were killed due to the forces of the crash.  The Plaintiff, the sole survivor, had no recall of what occurred.   The Court found that in the circumstances a finding of negligence was warranted with Mr. Justice Weatherill providing the following reasons:

[100]     The evidence leads overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the driver of the vehicle was negligent and that his negligence caused the crash.  The posted speed limit was 110 kph.  The vehicle was travelling in excess of 130 kph at the time of the accident.  As Sgt. Nightingale put it, the crash was caused by speed and the driver’s inattentiveness.  I accept this evidence.  Mr. Bowler agreed that there was no indication of anything mechanically wrong with the vehicle that would have caused or contributed to the crash and that the crash was consistent with driver inattention. 

[101]     In such circumstances, negligence can be inferred: Nason v. Nunes, 2008 BCCA 203 at para. 8.  The defendants led no evidence to the contrary.  

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