Driver Found 100% Liable for Accident Caused During Careless U-Turn


Reasons for judgement were released today by Mr. Justice Smith of the BC Supreme Court considering the issue of fault in a collision between a pick-up truck and a motorcycle.
In today’s case (Dhah v. Harris) the Plaintiff was driving his motorcycle northbound on River Road in Delta, BC.  As he was coming into the second turn of an ‘s-curve’ a pick up truck was making a U-Turn from the Southbound lane into the Northbound lane.  Approaching this truck the motorcyclist hit his brakes ‘pretty hard’, dropped his bike and then slid into the side of the pickup truck.
The driver of the pick up truck did not see the Plaintiff and only realized he was there upon impact.  Similarly the motorcyclist did not appreciate that the pick up truck was there until it was too late to avoid the collision.  There was no evidence that the motorcyclist was speeding.
Both driver’s claimed the other was at fault.  After a 3 day trial Mr. Justice Smith found the pick-up truck driver 100% at fault.  In coming to this conclusion he provided the following summary and application of the law relating to U-Turn collisions:

[22] I find it highly unlikely that the defendant was moving at the extremely slow speed that that would imply. I find it more likely that the defendant was focussed on the tightness of the turn and the need to avoid the ditch across the road and that he failed to pay sufficient attention to situation to his right. Either he allowed more time than he now recalls to elapse between looking right and beginning his turn or he simply failed to notice the plaintiff who was there to be seen.

[23] Even if the defendant was turning at an extremely slow speed and the plaintiff was not there to be seen when the defendant began his turn, the plaintiff obviously would have come into view at some point before the collision. On the defendant’s own evidence, he did not look to his right again before he crossed the double solid centre line.

[24] It is a matter of common knowledge that roads are typically marked with a double solid line at locations where drivers will have reduced visibility of the road ahead. Sections 155 (1)(a) and 156 of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318, read as follows:

155  (1) Despite anything in this Part, if a highway is marked with

(a) a solid double line, the driver of a vehicle must drive it to the right of the line only,

156  If the driver of a vehicle is causing the vehicle to enter or leave a highway and the driver has ascertained that he or she might do so with safety and does so without unreasonably affecting the travel of another vehicle, the provisions of sections 151 and 155 are suspended with respect to the driver while the vehicle is entering or leaving the highway.

[25] Counsel for the defendant argues that the defendant reasonably concluded that he could safely enter the roadway and was leaving enough distance for oncoming vehicles to adjust to his presence. He argues that the effect of s. 156, in those circumstances, is that once the defendant entered the roadway, other drivers including the plaintiff were required to “accommodate” his position. In effect, counsel argues that if the defendant determined on reasonable grounds that he could safely cross the centre line, he acquired the right of way from the moment he entered the roadway.

[26] I cannot accept that submission. Section 155(1)(a), standing alone, contains an outright prohibition against crossing a double solid line. Section 156 does no more than provide limited exceptions to that absolute prohibition. It does not, in my view, diminish the duty to proceed with caution and it does not remove the right of way from another driver who is approaching in his or her proper lane.

[27] In any event, the question of whether or not the defendant was in violation of the statutory provision is not determinative. The question is whether the defendant kept a proper lookout and took appropriate care in the circumstances:  Dickie Estate v. Dickie and De Sousa (1991), 5 B.C.A.C. 37 (C.A.).

[28] In Dickie, the plaintiff was in the process of making a u-turn across a double solid line when he was struck by the defendant who was approaching at an excessively high speed. The Court of Appeal said at para. 12:

[The plaintiff] was engaging in a manoeuvre that was fraught with danger. He placed himself and the oncoming drivers in a position of risk. That being so, in my opinion, the law required of him a very high degree of care which would manifest itself in a sharp lookout before he crossed over the solid double line into the northbound lanes on the causeway. There was nothing to prohibit Dickie from seeing the oncoming De Sousa vehicle before his vehicle entered the northbound lanes of travel.

[29] I find that the defendant in this case was similarly “engaging in a manoeuvre that was fraught with danger”. He was making a left turn across a double solid line at a point where there was no intersection or driveway—at a point where oncoming drivers would have no reason to anticipate vehicles entering the roadway. He knew there was a curve to his right and knew or ought to have known that oncoming drivers might have limited visibility. The location and the nature of his manoeuvre required him to pay particular attention to the ditch across the road and I have found that he did so at the expense of being attentive to oncoming traffic.

[30] I also note that the Court in Dickie referred to the need for a sharp lookout before the driver crossed the centre line and before he entered the northbound lanes. In the circumstances of this case, it was not sufficient for the defendant to form an opinion about the safety of his manoeuvre before he entered the roadway. He says that he looked right at that point, but, in my view, his duty to keep a sharp lookout continued beyond that. He gave no evidence of having looked again before crossing the centre line; in my view, reasonable prudence required that he should have done so.

[31] Therefore, I find that the collision at issue was caused by the negligence of the defendant. The question then becomes whether there was any contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff.

Mr. Justice Smith went on to give reasons explaining why he found the Plaintiff faultless for this crash holding that “the Plaintiff was entitled to proceed on the assumption that all other vehicles will do what it is their duty to do, namely observe the rules regulating traffic”.  Paragraphs 32-37 of the reasons for judgement are worth reviewing for the Court’s full discussion of why this Plaintiff was faultless.

Dhah v. Harris, fault, liability, motorcycle accidents, Mr. Justice Smith, section 155 BC Motor Vehicle Act, Section 156 BC Motor Vehicle Act, U-Turn

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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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