Cyclist Fully at Fault For Collission Following Careless Lane Change; No Adverse Inference From Defendant Failing to Tesitfy

Interesting reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dismissing a plaintiff’s claim following a bicycle/vehicle collision.
In last week’s case (Miles v. Kumar) the Plaintiff was cycling Eastbound along Grandview Highway in Vancouver when he moved from the right into the left lane in preparation for a left turn at an upcoming intersection.  The Defendant was travelling in this lane and a collision occurred shortly after the lane change.  Mr. Justice Bernard found the plaintiff fully at fault an in doing so reached the following conclusions:
[62]         In summary, with due regard for all the foregoing, I make the following determinations: (a) that as Ms Kumar travelled in the left lane to the point of the collision, she enjoyed the right of way; (b) that the evidence does not reasonably support a finding that Ms Kumar was, at the time, driving without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway, or at a speed that was excessive to the conditions; (c) that when Mr. Miles entered the left lane in front of Ms Kumar his bicycle was servient to Ms Kumar’s car; and, (d) that when Mr. Miles entered the left lane he did so in breach of his statutory duties pursuant to ss. 151(a) and 151(c) of the MV Act.
[63]         In addition to the foregoing, I am also satisfied that there is no evidence upon which I could reasonably conclude: (a) that Ms Kumar ought to have known that Mr. Miles would disregard her right of way; or, (b) that there was sufficient opportunity for a reasonably careful and skilled driver in the position of Ms Kumar to avoid colliding with Mr. Miles (see Walker v. Brownlee, supra).
Interestingly the Defendant never testified at trial despite fault being disputed.   The Court was asked to draw an adverse inference but Mr. Justice Bernard refused to do so. The Court provided the following comments on this issue:
[66]         The plaintiff has submitted that the Court should draw an inference adverse to the defendants because Ms Kumar – “the only person who could have provided evidence as to her position, speed, attentiveness, driving experience, familiarity with the road, as to when she first saw Mr. Miles, and as to why she made no attempt to avoid a collision” – who had been scheduled to testify, did not do so, and without explanation. In support of this position, the plaintiff cites Bronson v. Hewitt, 2010 BCSC 169. In Bronson, the court drew an adverse inference against the defendants because one of the defendants did not testify. The court found that this defence decision deprived the court of the best evidence of conversations critical to deciding the case.
[67]         The defendants submits that Bronson is distinguishable from the case at bar. In Bronson, a positive defence was advanced; one which required proof of the content of critical conversations between the two defendants. The court observed that evaluating the defence advanced obliged the court to consider the credibility of both defendants, and the failure to call one defendant deprived the court of the best evidence of the conversations and the opportunity to assess credibility – a matter very much in issue.
[68]         In the case at bar, the defendants note that a positive defence has not been advanced. Here, the defendants simply rely upon the onus the plaintiff bears to prove its case. The defendants’ position is that the plaintiff has failed to prove the negligence alleged. In support they cite McIlvenna v. Viebig, [2012] B.C.J. No. 292, 2012 BCSC 218. In reviewing the law on adverse inferences, the court in McIlvenna stated:
[70]      The law with respect to adverse inferences in civil cases when witnesses are not called is summarized in Halsbury’s Laws of Canada [Civil Procedure II, 1st ed (Markham: LexisNexis, 2008) at para 228; Evidence, 1st ed (Markham: LexisNexis 2010), at para 14] under both Civil Procedure, and Evidence headings, respectively, as follows:
It is highly unusual for a party not to testify in a civil trial. The court may draw an adverse inference from the fact that a party fails to testify, provided that it is reasonable in the circumstances to do so. In order for an adverse inference to be drawn, there must be a dispute as to those facts concerning which the party would be competent to testify. Furthermore, if the plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendant, no adverse inference will be drawn should the defendant not testify. Nor is a party required to testify to rebut allegations that are plainly absurd. More generally, an adverse inference will not be drawn where the effect of drawing such an inference is to reverse the onus of proof.

There is no obligation on any party to call any particular witnesses. However, the trier of fact may draw an adverse inference from a party’s failure to call a witness whose testimony would be expected to assist the party’s case.
[69]         Having regard to the foregoing, I agree with the defendants that the effect of drawing an adverse inference against Ms Kumar would be to reverse the onus of proof; moreover, Ms Kumar was extensively cross-examined at her Examination for Discovery and the plaintiff chose to “read in” many of Ms Kumar’s answers as evidence in the plaintiff’s case.
[70]          I am satisfied that there is a critical distinction between the case at bar and that in Bronson. Here, the defendants have not advanced a positive defence and then elected not to testify in support of it. In such circumstances, the defendants are entitled to rest upon the plaintiff’s failure to prove his case. Drawing an adverse inference against the defendants for the failure to present a case with Ms Kumar as a witness would undermine the fundamental legal premise that it is the party alleging the wrongdoing who bears the onus of proof.

adverse inference, bc injury law, bicycle accident, Miles v. Kumar, Mr. Justice Bernard

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ERIK
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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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