Motorist Liable for Collision After Blanketing Other Vehicle in Snow

Update December 16, 2015the reasoning in the below decison was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal today.
Interesting reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, addressing fault for a single vehicle collision.
In today’s case (Link v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was travelling in winter driving conditions when “the front windshield of his vehicle (was blanketed with snow by a passing sport utility vehicle” following which the Plaintiff lost visibility, tapped his brakes, and lost control of his vehicle resulting in a single vehicle collision.
In finding the passing vehicle was fully at fault for passing when it was unsafe to do so Mr. Justice Ball provided the following reasons:

[17]         To determine whether the driver of the SUV was negligent, the Court must follow the analysis outlined in Crocker and Rowe. The driver of the SUV, as the driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle on the highway, owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. That duty is statutorily mandated in ss. 157-159 of the MVA.

[18]         Those sections also outline the required standard of care. Section 157 requires that the driver of an overtaking vehicle may only pass another vehicle on the left side “at a safe distance and must not cause or permit the vehicle to return to the right side of the highway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle”. Section 159 states that “a driver of a vehicle must not drive to the left side of roadway when overtaking and passing another vehicle unless the driver can do so safely.”

[19]         In the case at bar, the highway was blanketed with a large amount of snow that was clearly visible for all drivers to see, which made driving a treacherous task. Despite the poor road and weather conditions, the driver of the SUV blew by Mr. Link at a high speed in the left lane. Unlike the situation in Lang, where Hood J. found that the spray was unanticipated and a surprise to the overtaking driver, the driver of the SUV, given the conditions, would have – or should have – appreciated the likelihood that the act of passing at high speed and returning to the slow lane immediately in front of the overtaken vehicle would result in a significant amount of snow being thrown onto the overtaken vehicle causing a total loss of visibility. This risk could have been avoided by the driver of the SUV by passing at a lower rate of speed and not returning to the slow lane abruptly.

[20]         There is, in my view, a very heavy onus on the driver of an overtaking vehicle to make sure that passing can be done in safety; particularly in poor road and weather conditions. The driver of the SUV in this case did not respect the circumstances that the standard of care dictated. That driver was in clear breach of the standard of care.

[21]         Mr. Link did not voluntarily accept the risk that another driver on the highway would fail to pass him in safety. As for causation, I am satisfied that, as in Rowe, the unsafe pass “precipitated a chain of events” which culminated in Mr. Link’s accident. The driver of the SUV “roared right by” Mr. Link and “a big rooster tail of snow completed covered [the] windshield”. This caused Mr. Link to lose complete visibility, and he tapped his brakes because he could not see. The Link Vehicle then spun out and hit the median. I find, in the circumstances, that the driver of the SUV caused the accident.

[22]         No contributory negligence has been proven by the defendant. Mr. Link was in a smaller vehicle competing with bad weather and snow conditions. I find that Mr. Link was driving in a safe manner at low speed consistent with the difficult conditions. I also find that Mr. Link’s actions in tapping his brakes was a reasonable reaction to losing total forward visibility.

[23]         In the result I am satisfied that Mr. Link has proven on a balance of probabilities that the driver of the SUV was negligent in all of the circumstances of this case.

bc injury law, Link v. ICBC, Mr. Justice Ball, overtaking, overtaking vehicles, section 157 Motor Vehicle Act, section 159 motor vehicle act

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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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