Driver Found 60% At Fault for Rear End Crash After Failing to Activate Hazard Lights

The BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement today upholding a trial judgement finding a motorist who was rear-ended 60% liable for the collision for failing to have their hazard lights activated prior to the crash.
In today’s case (Langille v. Marchant) the Plaintiff was involved in a crash which left her vehicle stopped in the middle lane of a bridge.  A few minutes later her vehicle was rear ended.  The BC Court of Appeal found it was not unreasonable for the Plaintiff to have not moved her vehicle prior to the second collision, but that the failure of her to activate her hazard lights was negligent and upheld the trial finding placing 60% of the blame on this omission.
In reaching this conclusion the Court of Appeal provided the following reasons:

[19]         Activating emergency flashers is a step Ms. Langille certainly could have taken. It was open to the trial judge to find that it was negligent on the part of Ms. Langille to obtain particulars from the other driver before ensuring the safety of the location of the accident, or at least improving the situation for oncoming drivers by activating her flashers. It was also open to the trial judge to find doing so would have reduced the likelihood of impact or the severity of the impact that occurred. That is the logical implication of the finding that Ms. Marchant’s late recognition of the hazard caused or contributed to the accident. The activation of flashers would have made Ms. Langille’s car more visible and made it harder for Ms. Marchant to fail to notice its presence or note earlier that it was not moving, and to take earlier evasive measures.

[20]         As this Court noted in Hansen v. Sulyma, 2013 BCCA 349, when considering the trial judge’s assessment of causation in a similar case:

[29]      I do not read the trial judge in this case… as having found that this was one of those exceptional cases in which the “but for” test is to be “relaxed” by recourse to a “material contribution to risk” test. Rather, the trial judge was using “contribute to” in the traditional sense and in my respectful opinion, did not err in doing so. Certainly on a “robust and pragmatic approach”, it was a reasonable conclusion that if Mr. Sulyma had activated his hazard lights, Mr. Leprieur would likely have been alerted to the presence of the Honda and would have had adequate, or more, reaction time in which to decelerate. Even if deceleration would not have totally avoided the impact but would only have reduced Ms. Hansen’s injuries, the “but for” test was still met.

[21]         I would not disturb the trial judge’s findings that it was negligent to turn off the car and leave only its running lights on in the middle of a busy bridge at night in a location where one would not expect vehicles to be stopped, nor would I disturb the finding that the negligence contributed to the accident.

[22]         The appellant argues that in apportioning liability the trial judge failed to recognize that the primary responsibility for avoiding rear end collisions rests with the driver approaching from the rear. In my view, it is clear from her reasons for judgment that the trial judge recognized that rule; she found the defendant negligent and liable, before going on, as she was required to do, to consider the plaintiff’s conduct. Having found the plaintiff contributorily negligent she was required to address the relative degrees of blameworthiness of the parties.

[23]         When she weighed the parties’ relative degrees of blameworthiness the trial judge was clearly of the view that the plaintiff’s conduct in failing to protect herself and other drivers after the first collision was more blameworthy than the defendant’s conduct. The trial judge found the defendant to have been momentarily inattentive in the face of an imminent, and relatively difficult to discern, peril. The plaintiff, on the other hand, attended to inspection of damage and attempted to exchange information with Mr. Masahiro before taking a simple step to protect herself and others. The trial judge properly treated the failure to illuminate flashers and move the vehicle collectively as “the central allegation” made against the plaintiff. ln my view, this central complaint, that the plaintiff failed to take any step to reduce the risk to drivers approaching what the trial judge found to be an unexpected hazard, remains, even if the plaintiff’s failure to move her vehicle is not blameworthy.

bc injury law, hazard lights, Langille v. Marchant, rear end collisions

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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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