Passenger Partly Liable for Collision After Grabbing Steering Wheel

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing fault for a single vehicle collision involving a passenger who grabbed the steering wheel.
In last week’s case (Sikora v. Brown) both the motorist and her passenger were driving home from a nightclub.  Both had been drinking but neither was “seriously intoxicated“.  As they drove through an intersection the steering wheel was shaking and the driver invited the passenger to feel this.  He held on to the steering wheel and shortly thereafter the collision occurred.  In finding both the driver and passenger equally to blame Mr. Justice Verhoeven provided the following reasons:
[37]         In these difficult circumstances, where neither version of events is reliable and where there is essentially no independent corroborative evidence one way or another, I find as follows.  Ms. Sikora had been drinking some alcohol at the nightclub but was not seriously intoxicated.  Mr. Brown had been drinking as well, somewhat more than she had, but was a large man and was also not seriously intoxicated.  They left the nightclub together intending to go to Ms. Sikora’s home. Along the way they discussed going to a restaurant.  Whether they actually agreed to go to the restaurant is immaterial.  Ms. Sikora was driving at about 60 km/h as they drove through the intersection.  She was aware that the intersection caused her vehicle to shake, and that the steering of her vehicle was notably “loose” and prone to shaking.  Either before entering the intersection or in its midst, in the context of telling Mr. Brown about the new car she had ordered that very day, she commented about the condition of the intersection, complained that it should be repaired, and complained about the poor condition of her vehicle’s steering in common with Fords generally.  She did not slow down before entering the intersection.  She invited Mr. Brown to observe the shaking of the steering wheel, and to feel the steering wheel of the car for himself.  He held it for a few seconds then let go.  The combined effects of Mr. Brown’s holding of wheel, the condition of the road and vehicle, and Ms. Sikora’s manner of driving the vehicle caused her to lose control of the vehicle some seconds after Mr. Brown let go of the wheel.  The precise mechanics of this are impossible to sort out. She did not brake at any time.  The vehicle likely swerved left before veering to the right, and then left the roadway to the right side, before eventually coming to rest in the ditch upon impact.
[38]         I find that both parties were negligent and that they both contributed to causing the accident in equal measure.  Ms. Sikora was negligent in not slowing down before entering the intersection or when proceeding through it, when she was very familiar with the defects in the road and the particularly significant consequences to her vehicle of the defects.  In somewhat precarious circumstances, she invited Mr. Brown to feel the steering wheel, when she ought to have known that his doing so could have unpredictable consequences, and could affect her ability to properly control the vehicle.  She did not slow down when he held the steering wheel for several seconds.  She lost control of the vehicle after he let go of the wheel.
[39]         Mr. Brown was also negligent, in holding the steering wheel for a few seconds, when he knew or ought to have known in all the circumstances, including the defective condition of the road and Ms. Sikora’s comments about the problems with her vehicle’s steering, that his actions could affect Ms. Sikora’s ability to control the vehicle.  I find that his actions materially contributed to her loss of control of the vehicle, and that the accident would not have occurred otherwise.  I do not accept his evidence that he merely touched the wheel with his open hand to feel it shaking.  He negligently grasped the wheel and held it in such a manner that it interfered with her ability to control the vehicle…
[45]         I find that Ms. Sikora and Mr. Brown are equally at fault for causing the accident.  As a result it is not strictly necessary to apply s. 1 of the Negligence Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 333, which provides that where the fault of two or more persons causes damage or loss to one or more of them, liability must be apportioned equally if having regard to all the circumstances of the case it is not possible to establish different degrees of fault.

bc injury law, Mr. Justice Verhoeven, passenger grabbing steering wheel, Sikora v. Brown

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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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