Nurse Found Liable for "Negligent Walking"

There is no reason why the principles of negligence can’t apply to a situation where one pedestrian negligently walks into another causing injury.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.
In today’s case (Faircrest v. Buchanan) the “unintentionally bumped into (the plaintiff) while leaving her office to attend to a patient”.  The Plaintiff fell down and suffered a fractured hip.
The Defendant argued that no liability should flow stating that “a person of ordinary fortitude would not have fallen as a result of the Collision“.  The Court disagreed and found liability could flow from negligent walking.  In doing so Mr. Justice Erhcke provided the following reasons:

[57]         The parties are in agreement that there are four elements to be proved by the plaintiff in an action for negligence, as set out in para. 3 of Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada Ltd., 2008 SCC 27:

[3]        A successful action in negligence requires that the plaintiff demonstrate (1) that the defendant owed him a duty of care; (2) that the defendant’s behaviour breached the standard of care; (3) that the plaintiff sustained damage; and (4) that the damage was caused, in fact and in law, by the defendant’s breach. I shall examine each of these elements of negligence in turn. As I will explain, Mr. Mustapha’s claim fails because he has failed to establish that his damage was caused in law by the defendant’s negligence. In other words, his damage are too remote to allow recovery.

[58]         The first and the third elements are not in issue, since Fraser Health acknowledges that Nurse Buchanan owed the plaintiff a duty of care and that the plaintiff was injured in the Collision. Fraser Health also acknowledges that it is vicariously liable if Nurse Buchanan is found to have been negligent.

[59]         As to the fourth element, Fraser Health contends that even if the plaintiff’s injuries were in fact caused by the Collision, they were too remote to warrant damages, and therefore, legal causation has not been established. Fraser Health submits that a person of ordinary fortitude would not have fallen as a result of the Collision, or if she did, she would not have sustained injury.

[60]         I do not agree. There is no evidence that Ms. Faircrest’s arthritis, age, or stature had anything to do with her sustaining injuries in the Collision. Although she may have walked more slowly than others, that was not a relevant factor in the outcome. It was reasonably foreseeable that if Nurse Buchanan, who weighed 185 lbs., while not watching where she was walking, collided with a female volunteer, that volunteer might fall and suffer physical injuries. The injuries are not too remote to warrant damages, if the standard of care was breached.

[61]         We come then to the third element, breach of the standard of care. The standard of care in the case of collisions between pedestrians was described in this way by Dhillon J. in Mills v. Moberg (1996), 27 B.C.L.R. (3d) 277 (S.C.) at para. 6:

The duty of pedestrians to one another is to act as an ordinary person would in the circumstances, using the degree of care and vigilance which the circumstances and the interests of others using the walkway demand.

[62]         In that case, Dhillon J. found a delivery driver liable in negligence for having knocked over another pedestrian as he walked around the corner of his truck in a mall parking lot, causing the 76-year-old plaintiff to fall and break her hip. She wrote at para. 6:

In this case, the defendant, Moberg, failed to consider the possibility of other pedestrians in the parking lot despite the configuration of the lot which necessitated pedestrians to cross the lot to reach the shops. Given the proximity of the mall to long term care and rehabilitation facilities and given Moberg’s regular presence at the mall, Moberg should have been alert to the presence of pedestrians including disabled persons in the vicinity. He did not look to his right as he quickly rounded the rear of his delivery van to reach the driver’s door. His failure to look for other pedestrians was the cause of the collision.

[63]         In the present case, it is, of course, relevant that Connolly Lodge is a residential mental health facility and that Nurse Buchanan had a duty to react quickly to the disturbance caused by one of the patients. Nevertheless, her quick reaction was no reason to be heedless of other persons standing or walking in the Lodge who might be in her path as she proceeded to attend to the patient. Her failure to notice the presence of the plaintiff in her path caused the Collision.

[64]         I therefore find that Nurse Buchanan was negligent, and that Fraser Health is vicariously liable for her negligence.

bc injury law, Faircrest v. Buchanan, Mr. Justice Ehrcke, negligent walking

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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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