Police Officer in Pursuit Found Fully at Fault for Intersection Collision

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Chilliwack Registry, finding a police officer fully at fault for an intersection collision with another motorist.

In today’s case (Burroughs v. Chiasson) the Plaintiff was an RCMP officer involved in a crash in 2013.  At the time, while driving a fully marked RCMP vehicle, she “pursued a truck with an uninsured trailer by attempting to turn left, on a red light, onto Young Road from the westbound curb lane on First Avenue. While making this turn, she collided with a minivan driven by the defendant, Jennifer Chiasson. Ms. Chiasson was driving eastbound on First Avenue.”.

The RCMP officer sued the other motorist claiming damages from the collision.  The claim was dismissed with the Court finding that the Plaintiff entered the intersection when it was dangerous to do so in circumstances with no particular urgency.  In dismissing the claim and finding the officer fully at fault for the crash Mr. Justice Basran provided the following reasons:

[46]         As a trained and experienced police officer, Ms. Burroughs knew that there was a significant risk in turning left on a red light from a curb lane in front of a bus that blocked her view of oncoming traffic. She also knew that expired insurance on a trailer did not pose an imminent threat or danger. There was no need for immediate apprehension of the trailer.

[47]         Ms. Burroughs’ position that the offence was “arrestable” and that this explanation justified her actions demonstrates that she failed to weigh the risk of the required maneuver in relation to the risk to the public of letting the trailer proceed. Ms. Burroughs should have abandoned her pursuit and followed up at the trailer owner’s address instead of pursuing this vehicle by making a dangerous maneuver. In my view, the risk to the public from turning left significantly outweighed the risk to the public posed by expired insurance on a trailer. As in Watkins, there was a safer option, but Ms. Burroughs failed to consider it.

[48]         After deciding to pursue the trailer, Ms. Burroughs should have followed her training and cleared the lanes one at a time by ensuring that she could see, and be seen, by all vehicles in, and approaching, the intersection. She knew that the bus created a blind spot and obstructed her view of oncoming traffic. She therefore should have addressed this by stopping and exercising considerable caution prior to crossing in front of the bus. Her poor visibility of oncoming traffic is a factor that increased the potential harm to the public: Regulations, s. 4(6)(b).

[49]         Both Ms. Burroughs and Ms. Chiasson testified that there was no time to react prior to the accident. By the time they perceived each other, the accident was imminent.

[50]         Ms. Sawatzky had a clear and close view of the events leading to the accident. Ms. Burroughs did not stop in front of the bus. She kept moving in front of it and then accelerated past it causing the accident with Ms. Chiasson’s vehicle.

[51]         No witnesses corroborated Ms. Burroughs’s recollection that the siren was on prior to the U-turn. I do not accept that Ms. Burroughs turned on her siren when she executed the U-turn on First Avenue, 20 to 30 seconds prior to the accident. Ms. Burroughs may have thought she activated the siren well before the accident, but no one, including Ms. Sawatzky and Ms. Marchuk, recalls hearing a siren until mere moments before impact. I find it is more likely that while making the left turn maneuver, Ms. Burroughs knew she could not see past the bus, but was nevertheless determined to pursue the trailer, and activated her siren immediately before accelerating in front of the bus. I accept Ms. Chiasson’s evidence that she heard the siren shortly before the collision and that she had no time to react to it.

[52]         Had Ms. Burroughs stopped in front of the bus and waited for the southbound light on Young Road to turn green, the accident would not have happened. If Ms. Burroughs had done this, it is possible that she may have lost sight of the trailer, but as noted above, immediate apprehension of the uninsured trailer was not required.

[53]         In my view, Ms. Burroughs contravened s. 177 of the MVA by not activating her siren before entering the intersection of First Avenue and Young Road.

[54]         Ms. Chiasson could not see Ms. Burroughs’ car and did not hear a siren until shortly before the collision. Ms. Chiasson had no visual and virtually no audible cue to warn her of the presence of Ms. Burroughs’ vehicle. She had a green light and entered the intersection as she was entitled to do. She could not have avoided the accident and is therefore not liable for it.

[55]         I find that Ms. Burroughs’ actions were the sole cause of the accident and she is 100% liable for it.

bc injury law, Burroughs v. Chiasson, intersection collisions, Mr. Justice Basran, Police Pursuit Cases

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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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