Bus Driver Liable For Injuries Caused by Hard Braking


As previously discussed, a collision is not necessary in order for a motorist to be responsible for personal injuries caused to others.  This was demonstrated again in reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In this week’s case (Prempeh v. Boisvert) the Plaintiff was a passenger on a bus operated by the Defendant.  The Defendant “vigorously and abruptly applied the brakes to avoid a collision with the two vehicles which had stopped ahead of him“.  This caused the plaintiff, who was standing holding a metal handle, to be thrown down the aisle.  The Plaintiff was injured in the process.
The Plaintiff alleged the driver was negligent in braking hard.  The Defendant disagreed arguing this action was necessary to avoid collision.  Ultimately Madam Justice Dardi found the driver fully liable for the incident for driving without due care an attention.  In assessing the driver at fault the Court provided the following reasons:

[22] Mr. Boisvert was required to brake hard to avoid hitting the two vehicles that had stopped on the roadway in front of the bus he was operating. The first of the vehicles had stopped to turn left on Hamilton Street. The second car stopped behind the left-turning vehicle without a collision and without accompanying honking or screeching of brakes. It can reasonably be inferred that this occurred within a time frame that should have permitted a reasonably prudent user of the road driving behind those vehicles an opportunity to react and brake without incident. The application of the brakes was not a reaction to an emergency or unexpected hazard.

[23] Moreover, Mr. Boisvert properly conceded that, regardless of an abrupt or unexpected stop of a vehicle ahead, in order to prevent accidents prudence mandates that at all times a bus driver drive defensively and maintain a safe cushion or certain distance from a vehicle travelling in front of the bus. This is precisely to be able to stop safely in the event of an unexpected manoeuvre by that vehicle.

[24] I cannot find with precision whether the sudden and hard application of the brakes occurred because Mr. Boisvert was travelling too rapidly, not maintaining a diligent look-out or because he failed to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of him. However, in weighing all of the evidence I have concluded that Mr. Boisvert’s sudden and vigorous application of the brakes, in the context of all the circumstances in this case, establishes a prima facie case of negligence against Mr. Boisvert. It is not conduct attributable to a reasonably prudent bus driver.

[25] Having found a prima facie case of negligence the onus is upon the defendants to establish that Mr. Boisvert was not negligent or that the incident was attributable to some specific cause consistent with the absence of negligence on his part.

[26] I note that Mr. Boisvert’s assertion at his examination for discovery that he could have stopped smoothly but the bus brakes on the new trolley bus “grabbed” and caused a “hard stop” is no answer to this claim.

[27] Mr. Boisvert was an experienced bus driver. The plaintiff was entitled to expect that he would operate the bus in a safe, proper and prudent manner. The plaintiff cannot be expected to assume any risk associated with the operation of the vehicle which could not reasonably be anticipated by a passenger. The usual braking of a driver as he moves through traffic would not cause a passenger to be thrown to the floor so violently. Moreover it is well established on the authorities that the responsibility of a public carrier extends to ensuring that its modes of conveyance permit the bus to be operated in a safe and proper manner: Visanji at para. 32.

[28] I have considered all of the authorities provided by both parties. Though useful as providing guidance on the governing principles, each case turns on its own facts. I note that unlike the circumstances in Lalani v. Wilson, [1988] B.C.J. No. 2408 (Q.L.) (S.C.), upon which the defendant relies, the bus driver here was aware that the plaintiff had fallen – the possibility of injury was self-evident. Mr. Boisvert’s attention was drawn to such a possibility at the time of the incident and in compliance with the bus operator training manual he should have recorded all pertinent information regarding the incident. While the court in Lalani found it would have been unfair to shift the burden, this is not so in this case.

[29] On balance I am not satisfied that the defendants have shown that Mr. Boisvert conducted himself in a reasonable and careful manner consistent with the high duty of care imposed on those engaged in public transit. In the result, I conclude that Mr. Boisvert, however fleetingly, breached the standard of care of a reasonably prudent bus driver. I find the defendants negligent.

bus accidents, Madam Justice Dardi, mechanical back pain, no-impact collision, Prempeh v. Boisvert, translink

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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