Driver Found at Fault for Crash for Having High Beams On – Psychological Injuries Discussed

Interesting reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, dealing with the issue of fault in a BC Car Crash, specifically if a driver could be found at fault for having high beams on making it difficult for other motorists to see.
In today’s case (Scott v. Erickson) the Plaintiff was injured when she drove her vehicle off a road and over an embankment in southeastern British Columbia.  Before losing control the Plaintiff was driving a pick up truck Southbound on the highway.  At the same time the Defendant was driving Northbound on the same highway and crossed the road to stop at the community mailboxes in a pullout adjacent to the southound lane.  While retrieving his mail his SUV was off the road to the right of the Plaintiff’s lane of travel.
The Defendant’s vehicle was facing the Plaintiff’s with its high-beams on.  The Plaintiff thought the Defendant’s vehicle was in the oncoming lane so she tried to keep to the right of the Defendant’s vehicle.  Of course there was nothing but an embankment to the right of the Defendant’s vehicle and the Plaintiff’s vehicle flipped down into the ditch. Mr. Justice Smith found the Defendant 100% at fault for this collision.  In coming to this conclusion Mr. Justice Smith reasoned as follows:

The question is whether the defendant was in breach of the common law duty of care that he owed to other drivers in the circumstances. It is trite law that, apart from specific statutory provisions, every operator of a motor vehicle owes a common law duty to take reasonable care for the safety other users of the highway.  What constitutes reasonable care in a given case depends on what is reasonable in the circumstances.

[25] Those circumstances included the fact that, although he was not parked on the roadway, the defendant knew or should have known that he was close enough to it that his headlights to be visible to oncoming traffic. He also knew or should have known that there were no streetlights or other sources of light that would help oncoming drivers determine the position of his vehicle.

[26] In those circumstances, it was reasonably foreseeable that an approaching driver seeing the defendant’s headlights would assume they were the lights of an oncoming vehicle in the northbound lane and would attempt to ensure that she stayed to the right of that vehicle….

I find that if the defendant had properly turned his mind to the potential hazard he was creating, the proper course would have been to turn off his headlights. If the absence of light from his headlights would have made it more difficult for the defendant to find and open his mailbox, that problem could have been solved with the simple use of a small flashlight.

[29] The hazard created by the defendant in stopping as he did was aggravated by the fact his lights were on high beam, further interfering with the ability of the plaintiff to properly see and assess the situation…

I find that, by leaving his lights on high beam, the defendant was in further breach of his common law duty of care. Whether or not he was stopped on a portion of the highway, the defendant clearly knew or ought to have known that he was stopped close enough to the travelled road surface that his headlights would be shining toward oncoming drivers and the vision of those drivers could be impaired if the lights were on high beam.

[33] I therefore conclude that, in stopping his car in the position he did with his headlights not only illuminated but on high beam, the defendant breached his duty of care.

In addition to the rather unique circumstances of liability, this case is worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of quantum of damages.

Mr. Justice Smith found that the Plaintiff suffered from fairly “minor” physical injuries.  Despite this she went on to suffer from various cognitive difficulties.

The Plaintiff alleged these were due to a brain injury.  Mr. Justice Smith concluded that no brain injury occured in the crash, instead the Plaintiff’s cognitive difficulties were due to a ‘psychological response‘ to the accident.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $85,000 Mr. Justice Smith noted that while a brain injury did not occur, brain injury precedents were useful guides in valuing the Plaintiff’s loss as her diminished functioning mirrored post concussive symptoms in many ways.  Specifically Mr. Justice Smith noted as follows:

[107]     The plaintiff has suffered a persistent psychological reaction to her accident, which has clearly affected her ability to function as she once did in both social and professional settings. She has difficulties with memory and concentration, has difficulty functioning in groups and has suffers from a lack of energy and confidence. She is, in important respects, no longer the person she was and is unable to enjoy most aspects of life as she previously did. However, I have found that she does not have any organic brain injury and her condition is more likely than not to be treatable with the proper interventions.

[108]     Although I did not find the plaintiff to have mild traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder, the impact that her psychological condition has had on her life is in many ways similar to what is seen in cases involving those conditions. Those cases therefore can provide some useful guidance in assessing damages…

[112] I have considered those and other cases referred to, but of course each case must be decided on its own facts and on the need to compensate that plaintiff for pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. The accident in this case has had psychological consequences that have, to date, significantly interfered with the plaintiff’s enjoyment of life, her ability to function in both social and occupational settings, and her general sense of self worth. On the other hand, the plaintiff’s physical pain and suffering were short-lived, she has failed to prove that she suffered an organic brain injury, and the condition she has proved is one from which she is likely to fully recover with proper treatment. Taking all of those factors into account, I find $85,000 to be an appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages.

fault, headlights, highbeams, liability, Mr. Justice Smith, psychological injuries, scott v. erickson

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

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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