Proving Fault After A Transit Bus Collision – The Reverse Onus

If you are injured while a passenger in a transit bus British Columbia law requires the bus driver to prove they were not at fault.  This is a ‘reverse onus’ from most personal injury claims where the Plaintiff must prove the Defendant was at fault.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing this.
In last week’s claim (Tchir v. South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority) the plaintiff was riding as a passenger in a bus “when an unidentified driver came to an abrupt stop in front of the bus“.  The bus driver was forced to brake hard to avoid collision and the Plaintiff was thrown from her seat and injured.
The Court found both motorists were to blame for the incident.  In discussing the reverse onus in proving fault, Mr. Justice Davies provided the following summary of the law:
[38]         The standard of care owed by the Transit Defendants to Mrs. Tchir as a passenger is a high one. Also, once it is proven that a passenger is injured while riding on a public transit vehicle, a prima facie case of negligence is made out and the onus then shifts to the carrier to establish that the injuries suffered by the passenger occurred without fault on the carrier’s part.
[39]         Those principles were summarized by McLachlin J. (as she then was) in Planidin v. Dykes, [1984] B.C.J. No. 907 (S.C.) [Planidin] at pages 3 and 4 as follows:
There is little dispute as to the legal principles applicable in this case. The standard of care imposed on a public character is a high one. This standard has been established in the Supreme Court of Canada decision Day v. Toronto Transportation Committee [1940] S.C.R. 433, 4 D.L.R. 485 . At page 439 of that report of that case Davis, J. said:
·        ” The duty of the respondent to the appellant, its passenger, was to carry her safely as far as reasonable care and forethought could attain that end.”
·        At page 441 Hudson, J. in an oft-quoted passage, stated:
·        ” Although the carrier of passenger is not an insurer, yet if an accident occurs and the passenger is injured, there is a heavy burden on the defendant carrier to establish that he had used all due, proper and reasonable care and skill to avoid or prevent injury to the passenger. The care required is of a very high degree.”
These, and other cases, establish that once an accident occurs and a passenger is injured, a prima facie case in negligence is raised and the onus shifts to the public carrier to establish that the passenger’s injuries were occasioned without negligence on the company’s part. The question then is: What suffices to discharge this onus?
[40]         Concerning the last question posed, McLachlin J. went on to say:
This has been considered in at least two British Columbian cases and I refer to Lawrie v. B.C. Hydro and Power Authority (unreported, May 31st, 1876, B.C.S.C. Vancouver Registry No. 32708/74) and Fischer v. B.C. Hydro and Power Authority (unreported, February 19th, 1980, B.C.S.C. B781446). In the latter case, at page 8, Taylor, J., set out what the defendant must show to discharge the onus upon it in the following terms:
·        ” Thus there is in this case an onus on the defendants to show that the plaintiff came by her injury without negligence on their part or as a result of some cause for which they are not responsible. That is to say they must show that the vehicle was being driven carefully at the time of her fall, or that her fall resulted from some cause other than the manner in which the bus was being driven.”
[41]         Also instructive on the issue of the standard of care expected of the Transit Defendants in this case is the decision of Dardi J. in Prempeh v. Boisvert, 2012 BCSC 304 [Prempeh] at para. 15, in which she wrote:
… The standard of care owed to a plaintiff passenger by a defendant bus driver is the conduct or behaviour that would be expected of a reasonably prudent bus driver in the circumstances. This is an objective test that takes into consideration both the experience of the average bus driver and anything the defendant driver knew or should have known: Wang v. Horrod (1998), 48 B.C.L.R. (3d) 199 at para. 39 (C.A.); Patoma v. Clarke, 2009 BCSC 1069 at para. 6.
 

bc injury law, bus accidents, Mr. Justice Davies, Tchir v. South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority

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If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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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