Jury Finds Driver Faultless for Going Through Stop Sign in Icy Conditions


I have written previously about the ‘invevitable accident‘ defence more accurately referred to as a ‘no-negligence‘ defence.  Today the BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement considering this area of the law in the context of a personal injury lawsuit that was dismissed by a BC Jury.
In today’s case (Bhangal v. Sloan) the Plaintiff was injured when his vehicle was struck by a pick-up truck driven by the Defendant.  The Defendant went through a stop sign without stopping.    His explanation was that he was not careless but rather could not stop due to the slope of the hill he was travelling down and ice on the roadway.  The Jury accepted this evidence and dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim finding that the Defendant was not careless in operating his truck.
The Plaintiff appealed arguing that the Jury was wrong and that their finding was one “no properly instructed jury could reach“.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and upheld the Jury dismissal of the personal injury lawsuit.  In reaching this conclusion the BC High Court reasoned as follows:

In Fontaine, the principle of res ipsa loquitur was put to one side as being no longer applicable in Canadian negligence law. It is no longer to be presumed that a car running off the road (or its loss of control) is attributable to the negligence of its driver. Rather, a case in negligence must be proven on both the direct and circumstantial evidence adduced, with effect being given to such inferences as the evidence properly supports.

[10] In Nason v. Nunes, 2008 BCCA 203, 82 B.C.L.R. (4th) 1, this Court discussed the effect of Fontaine on its decision in Savinkoff v. Seggewiss, [1996] 10 W.W.R. 457, 25 B.C.L.R. (3d) 1, where it had been held there was an inference of negligence on the part of a driver of a vehicle that had slid out of control into another vehicle, requiring the driver to explain how the accident could have happened without his negligence. In Nason it was said:

[14]  … If and to the extent that the Court in Savinkoff intended to establish or confirm a legal rule that negligence must be inferred as a matter of law whenever a vehicle goes off the road and that the defendant must always meet it in the manner suggested, I believe the decision has been superseded by Fontaine. Wherever the court finds on all the evidence that negligence has not been proven, or that the defendant has shown he drove with reasonable care, the defendant must succeed, whether or not he is able to “explain” how the accident occurred. This is not to suggest that an inference may not be drawn as a matter of fact in a particular case, where a vehicle leaves the road or a driver loses control; but as the trial judge stated at para. 53 of her reasons (citing Fontaine at paras. 20, 24 and 35), such an inference will be “highly dependant on the facts” of the case and the explanation required to rebut it will “vary in accordance with the strength of the inference sought to be drawn by the plaintiff.”

[11] Mr. Bhangal accepts, as he must, that no inference of negligence arises here as a matter of law, but he contends a case of negligence was made out against Mr. Sloan on the direct and circumstantial evidence adduced such that it was not open to the jury to find otherwise.

[12] I accept it is arguable that, given the severe conditions, reasonable care may have required Mr. Sloan to have tested his brakes more than he did and either to have travelled slower than the 20 kph at which he was proceeding (if he travelled at all) or to have applied his brakes and slowed down sooner than he did on approaching the intersection. The case was, however, tried before a jury who were instructed their task was to determine whether Mr. Sloan did what a reasonable and careful person would have done in the circumstances. They found that he had and, taking Mr. Sloan’s evidence at its best, I do not consider it can be said their finding was so unreasonable this Court should now intervene.

[13] Mr. Sloan was proceeding cautiously at 20 kph; he checked his brakes as he drove toward the intersection and satisfied himself they were effective; and he applied them 150 feet from the intersection fully expecting he would stop. When he lost control of his truck on the icy road, he did everything he could to alert Mr. Bhangal. The jury was evidently satisfied he had met the requisite standard of care and that the accident occurred without negligence on his part. In my view, that was a conclusion both in fact and in law that was open to them.

[14] I would accordingly dismiss the appeal.

Bhangal v. Sloan, fault, Ice, inevitable accident, liability, losing control on ice, Nason v. Nunes, no negligence

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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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