Court of Appeal Orders Re-Trial for Contributory Negligence in Bicycle Accident Case
Reasons for judgement were released by the BC Court of Appeal today ordering a new trial to deal with the issue of ‘contributory negligence’ of the Plaintiff.
The Plaintiff was an experienced tri-athlete and bicyclist. He was
catastrophically injured in an accident on a steep and winding road in Langley on the morning of June 29, 2002. Proceeding on his triathlon-model bicycle downhill towards a blind curve, he veered to the right to avoid a “cube” van coming over the centre line, lost control of his bicycle, travelled through a gap between two barriers at the side of the road, and fell down a ravine. His spinal cord was injured at the C6-7 level, with the result that he has almost no sensation and almost no use of his body from his chest down and suffers chronic neuropathic pain. He does have use of his arms and of his diaphragm muscles. He has also been diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury. He was 50 years old at the time of the accident.
Following a 33 day trial the BC Supreme Court found the Defendants liable in negligence and awarded close to $4.5 million for the Plaintiff’s severe injuries and damages. The trial judge found that the Plaintiff was not contributorily negligent (that is that the Plaintiff was not even partially to blame for the accident).
The Defendants appealed on several grounds. Their appeal succeeded on the issue of contributory negligence. The BC Court of Appeal ordered that this issue be retried. The court’s key finding of error at the trial level is set out at paragraphs 25-26 which I set out below:
 The question that the trial judge was required to address was whether in all the circumstances Mr. Aberdeen was taking reasonable care for his own safety as a bicyclist, going down a hill he knew to be “nasty” and approaching a blind corner. Did he use a wrong technique? Was he going too fast? Given that he was clearly exceeding the “advisory” speed for cars, was he creating an unreasonable risk of harm to himself as he rounded the curve? Was he driving too closely to the centre line? Should he not, if riding in a reasonably prudent manner, have been able to move to the right side of his lane, as Mr. McGee did, without losing control and going over the shoulder and off the road? The trial judge did not answer these questions but, with respect, was content to base his conclusion of no negligence largely on the finding that Mr. Aberdeen could not have received a ticket. As for the fact that the plaintiff and Mr. McGee had conversed, just before the accident, about the steepness of the hill, that could take one only so far. As Lambert J.A. suggested in MacDonald v. Shorter  B.C.J. No. 3714, 8 B.C.A.C. 179, it seems likely that “in the bulk of cases where negligence occurs, the negligent conduct is an exception to the general conduct of the person who is said to be negligent.” (At para. 13.)
 In these circumstances, I am reluctantly driven to the conclusion that the trial judge erred in failing to consider specifically whether Mr. Aberdeen had been taking reasonable care for his own safety. (In addition, there was more than a “paucity” of evidence on the topic of speed, contrary to the trial judge’s finding.) I would remit the issue of contributory negligence for retrial below
This case is worth reviewing for anyone involved in an ICBC tort claim involving a cyclist to see the types of factors BC courts look at when deciding whether a cyclist is partially responsible for an accident.