Intersection Crashes and Legal Principles Determining Fault

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, summarizing some useful legal principles Judges look at when deciding the issue of fault following intersection crashes.
In today’s case (Luvera v. Benedict) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  He was driving his motorcycle and entered an intersection with the lights “probably in the late amber phase“.  At the same time, the Defendant who was approaching from the opposite direction of travel, “attempted her left turn only when the light turned from green to amber…(and) did not see the oncoming motorcycles“.  The Plaintiff drove into the right rear quarter panel of the Defendant’s vehicle.
Mr. Justice Wong found that both the Plaintiff and the Defendant were equally at fault for the crash.  Before reaching this conclusion the Court set out the following summary of principles of law:

[5]             In the March 2006 issue of the Verdict magazine, a publication of the B.C. Trial Lawyers Association, at page 40, there is a useful discussion of the jurisprudence in the article entitled, “Intersection/Right-of-Way Cases – Making Sense of the Law” authored by Barbara J. Flewelling.  At page 44, the author states:

There is a conflict in the cases about whether or not a left-turning driver must wait until all other vehicles have nearly or actually come to a stop before proceeding to make their turn.  Whereas the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Kokkinis v. Hall, [1996] B.C.J. No. 1560, has indicated that it is not necessary, in Mitchell v. ICBC, [2004] B.C.J. No. 1600, on a Rule 18A application, Mr. Justice Edwards was of the view that the interpretation of the obligations of a left-turning driver as set out in Kokkinis would invite left-turning drivers to assume rather than determine that oncoming through drivers will stop as the light turns yellow and requires through drivers to conduct themselves on the basis left-turning drivers will do so.  Edwards J. felt that due to the fact that many drivers regard an amber light as a signal to accelerate through an intersection, the Kokkinis principle seems to endorse a hazardous assumption of the part of the left-turning drivers.

In the Mitchell case, the left-turning plaintiff turned left on an amber light.  Mr. Justice Edwards found that the dominant through driver entered the intersection on an amber light, the collision occurred when the light was red, and that he was speeding.  Even though the judge said he could infer that the dominant driver would have had time to stop after the light turned yellow or could but was unable to stop due to speed, he still found that the left-turning servient driver had a duty to take account of manifest hazards and, by failing to see or react to the fact the van was approaching fast and not stopping, was negligent.  He apportioned liability equally relying on s. 1(2) of the Negligence Act as he was unable to determine different degrees of fault.

[6]             The author concludes in her summary at page 45 as follows:


Intersection/right-of-way cases are very fact dependent and it can be very difficult to assess liability with any precision.  However, there are some general principles that can be gleaned from the case law:

Although a driver who enjoys the right of way is entitled to assume that others will obey the law and the rules of the road, this is not absolute and if she is aware or ought to have been aware of the other driver’s disregard of the law and fails to take reasonable care to avoid a collision, she may be found partially or even wholly liable.

In determining if a dominant driver ought to have been aware of another’s disregard of the law, the courts seem to be taking a realistic approach to the exigencies of making rapid decisions in circumstances where a reasonable driver also has to check for cross-traffic and pedestrians.  The courts generally have recognized that at very busy intersections, there are times when the only way a driver can execute a left turn is on an amber light and a dominant driver may be found liable for failing to stop at an amber light.

The onus is on the servient driver to prove that the dominant driver was also negligent in that his or her negligence was a cause of the accident.

There is some conflict in the case law about whether a left-turning driver is obligated to wait until the oncoming traffic is nearly or completely stopped.  Some cases stand for the proposition that it is not necessary while others state that it is prudent to do so and that a left-turning driver who fails to do so will be found partially liable.

A servient left-turning driver has an obligation to take reasonable steps to determine if the dominant driver poses an immediate hazard.  The time this is determined is at the moment just before the turn is commenced.  There is some conflict in the law about whether that requires a servient driver to determine if the dominant driver is speeding and may not stop at the light.

[7]             Like my late colleague, Mr. Justice Edwards, factually I have also concluded that both parties were equally at fault.  Mr. Luvera should have approached the intersection with more caution in order to be able to stop safely.  Ms. Benedict failed to take into account the manifest hazards in this case of approaching motorcycles speeding towards her.

bc injury law, intersection crashes, liability, Luver v. Benedict, Mr. Justice Wong

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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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