Adverse Inference Drawn Following Defendant's Failure To Testify in Liability Trial
Where fault for a collision is disputed it is very unusual for one of the parties to fail to testify. Absent a good explanation the Court is free to draw an ‘adverse inference’ meaning an assumption that the party would not help their cause if they did indeed testify. Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, discussing this principle.
In this week’s case (Solberg v. Carriere) the Plaintiff pedestrian was struck by the Defenant’s vehicle in a 2012 collision in Campbell River, BC. The Plaintiff, was “acting in an animated and boisterous fashion” near the Defendant’s vehicle. The Defendant put his vehicle in motion knowing the Plaintiff was in the vicinity who then “slipped and fell” and was run over by the vehicle’s trailer. The Defendant argued the Plaintiff was fully at fault for the incident. The Defendant, who was present during the trial, decided not to testify. The Court drew an adverse inference from the Defendant’s failure and concluded that the Defendant “breached his duty of care by moving his vehicle forward without looking for himself to see that it was safe to do so, knowing that (the Plaintiff) was in the immediate area and acting foolishly”.
In drawing an adverse inference from the Defendant’s failure to testify Mr. Justice Johnston provided the following reasons:
 Weighing the evidence in light of those criteria set out in McIlvenna, I conclude that in this case I will draw an inference that, if he had been called, Mr. Carriere’s evidence would not have tended to establish that he looked toward Ms. Solberg before he put his vehicle in motion. I conclude that Mr. Carriere relied on his passengers to tell him if it were safe to move, whether it was good to go or clear. This is consistent with his discovery evidence that no one was looking at Ms. Solberg as he was driving away, and consistent wit the evidence of his passengers who did testify.