Negligent RCMP "Bait Car" Pursuit Results in nearly $1 million in Damages

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Campbell River Registry, resulting in a nearly $1 million judgement following the RCMP’s negligent response to a ‘bait car’ theft.

In today’s case (Watkins v. Dormuth) the Defendant RCMP officer was responding to a bait car activation call.  He proceeded North in the southbound lanes to get around traffic.  At the same time the Plaintiff was making a left hand turn at an intersection.  A t-bone collision occurred which resulted in serious injuries whith profound consequences and were expected to have a permanent disabling effect on the Plaintiff.  Damages of close to $1 million were assessed.
The RCMP argued the Plaintiff was to blame for the collision.  Mr. Justice Blok disagreed finding the RCMP were entirely at fault.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:
[78]         The provisions show there are certain prerequisites that must be met before a police officer may exercise the privileges set out in s. 122 of the Motor Vehicle Act.  In particular, the police officer must have reasonable grounds to believe that the risk of harm to members of the public from the exercise of those privileges is less than the risk of harm to the public should those privileges not be exercised.  Even where the prerequisites are met, the driving privileges afforded by the Motor Vehicle Act must be exercised with due regard for safety, having regard to certain factors.
[79]         I conclude that Cst. Dormuth did not have reasonable grounds to believe that the risk of harm to the public from exercising emergency vehicle privileges was less than the risk to the public should he not exercise those privileges.  All he knew was that there had been a bait car activation.  An activation did not mean that there was a risk of harm to the public because an activation signal could be caused by the mere opening of the bait car door or trunk.  It did not necessarily mean the car was being driven, let alone driven in a manner dangerous to the public.
[80]         This conclusion is consistent with the detachment’s bait car policy, which provides that the normal response level to a bait car activation is Code 2, that is, by proceeding immediately but without using lights or siren.  In other words, the detachment’s own policy recognizes that a bait car activation is a non-emergency event.
[81]         The defendants assert that Cst. Dormuth was not negligent in responding at a Code 3 level because that is how he had been trained, erroneous as it was.  However, I do not see that this absolves the defendants of liability since it is plain that the training given to Cst. Dormuth was faulty….
[95]         Emergency vehicles do not have free rein in exercising the driving privileges accorded by s. 122 of the Motor Vehicle Act.  They may only do so within the limits set by the Emergency Driving Regulation and they are constrained by the duty to drive with due regard for safety: Frers, at para. 89.  I conclude that Cst. Dormuth had no basis to exercise any emergency vehicle driving privileges, and I conclude that in exercising those privileges he did not drive with due regard for safety in the circumstances of this case.
[96]         For these reasons I conclude that the responsibility for this accident rests entirely with the defendants.
 

bc injury law, Motor Vehicle Act Emergency Vehicle Driving Regulation, Mr. Justice Blok, Watkins v. Dormuth

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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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