Defendant 75% at Fault for Crash Despite Being Rear Ended

Although not common, motorists can be found partly or even wholly at fault after being involved in a rear-end collision.  Such a result was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released earlier this month by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In the recent case (Stanikzai v. Bola) the Plaintiff rear-ended the Defendant’s vehicle.  The Court was presented with competing versions of how the collision occurred but ultimately accepted the evidence of an independent witness who confirmed the Defendant “quickly” moved into the Plaintiff’s lane as we was attempting a U-turn in front the the Plaintiff’s vehicle.  In finding the Defendant 75% at fault for the resulting impact Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:

] The only independent witness called was Mr. Tiwana, a truck driver who was behind the plaintiff in the left lane. Like the plaintiff, he described the defendant’s van moving into the right lane, then quickly attempting a u-turn in front of the plaintiff’s vehicle, leaving the plaintiff no time to react. However, one significant difference between the plaintiff’s evidence and that of Mr. Tiwana is that Mr. Tiwana said he saw the left turn signal on the defendant’s vehicle before what he described as the attempted u-turn.

[7] There is no doubt that when one vehicle hits another from behind, the onus is on the driver of the rear vehicle to show that the collision was not caused by his or her fault: Barrie v Marshall, 2010 BCSC 981. A driver following other vehicles is expected to keep his vehicle under sufficient control to be able to deal with sudden stopping or slowing of the vehicle in front: Pryndik v. Manju, 2001 BCSC 502.

[8] But while liability for a rear end collision usually rests entirely with the following driver, that is not an invariable result. For example, in Saffari v Lopez, 2009 BCSC 699, both drivers were found to be equally at fault for a rear end collision. In that case, the front driver stopped or slowed suddenly, ostensibly to retrieve a fallen cigarette, but the court found that the rear driver was travelling either too fast or too close behind to stop when confronted with the hazard.

[9] The plaintiff and the defendant in this case give conflicting evidence that cannot be reconciled. In attempting to determine what happened, on the balance of probabilities, I prefer the evidence of the only independent witness, Mr. Tiwana. He describes the defendant moving suddenly into the plaintiff’s lane in circumstances where the plaintiff did not have time to stop. That is not consistent with the defendant’s evidence of the lapse of time between her lane change and the collision and I do not accept her evidence on that point. I do accept her evidence that she had no reason to be making a u-turn and was not attempting one, but I find that her turn to the left on impact likely created the mistaken impression of a u-turn.

[10] Based on Mr. Tiwana’s description of the accident, I find that the defendant, in changing lanes, failed to notice or properly assess the position of other vehicles and failed to ensure that she had sufficient room to change lanes safely. Section 151(a) of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318 reads:

151 A driver who is driving a vehicle on a laned roadway

(a) must not drive from one lane to another when a broken line only exists between the lanes, unless the driver has ascertained that movement can be made with safety and will in no way affect the travel of another vehicle,

[11] I therefore find that the accident was caused or contributed to by the negligence of the defendant. However, on the basis of Mr. Tiwana’s evidence, the plaintiff must also bear some responsibility because he failed to see the defendant’s turn signal. Although the defendant’s move was a sudden one, seeing her turn signal would likely have given the plaintiff an earlier opportunity to either apply his brakes or to at least use his horn to warn the defendant of his presence.

[12] Because it was the defendant who created the dangerous situation, I find that she must bear the greater share of blame and apportion liability 75 per cent to the defendant and 25 per cent to the plaintiff.

bc injury law, Mr. Justice Smith, rear end accident, Section 151 Motor Vehicle Act, Stanikzai v. Bola

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ERIK
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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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