Tag: bicycle accidents

Fault For Right Hand Turning Vehicle Striking Cyclist Discussed by BC Supreme Court

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing the issue of fault for a collision involving a right hand turning vehicle and a cyclist attempting to pass the vehicle on the inside lane.

In this week’s case (Nelson v. Lafarge Canada Inc.) the Plaintiff was “cycling hard and fast alongside the Truck as the two approached the Intersection in tandem.  Mr. Nelson’s speed exceeded the Truck’s and it is apparent he was overtaking it on the right as the Truck turned onto Nanaimo.”  There was video of the actual collision presented in evidence and it demonstrated that the Truck driver “did engage the Truck’s right signal prior to executing his right turn onto Nanaimo.  I accept that he did so well before he arrived at the Intersection after the light had turned green.”
As the truck turned, on a still green light, a collision occurred.  Madam Justice Dickson found both parties to blame for the collision with the cyclist bearing 65% of the fault.  In reaching this concluding the Court provided the following reasons:
[77]         I agree with counsel for the defendants that Mr. Conarroe was the dominant driver in the circumstances of this Accident.  He was proceeding on a green light in the appropriate lane and had signaled his right turn well in advance.  He had also looked around as he turned onto Nanaimo and, generally speaking, was entitled to assume that others would obey the rules of the road.  Nevertheless, the presence of cyclists in the adjacent curb lane was both proper and predictable.  In addition, I have found Mr. Conarroe could and should have kept a more vigilant look-out in the period leading up to the right turn to ensure that it could be safely made.
[78]         Had Mr. Conarroe kept a more vigilant look-out after he stopped for the red light on Hastings and before he started his right turn he would have observed Mr. Nelson cycling hard and fast in the curb lane behind or beside him.  It would have been apparent that Mr. Nelson was focusing straight ahead and might attempt to overtake on the right as the two approached the green light, despite the riskiness of such conduct.  Armed with this knowledge, Mr. Conarroe could have avoided the Accident by waiting to commence his turn in the Intersection until it was clear either that Mr. Nelson had abandoned the unfolding attempt to pass on the right or completed it successfully.  His failure to do so was a failure to take reasonable care and a contributing cause of the Accident.
[79]         Mr. Nelson also failed to take reasonable care for his own safety, which failure was a contributing cause of the Accident.  Although, based on Jang, I find that the curb lane was a through lane for cyclists I also find it was unsafe for him to attempt to pass the right-turning Truck when there was little, if any, margin for error associated with such an attempt.  As noted, this was a breach of s. 158(2)(a) of the Act.  It also fell well below the standard of care to be expected of a reasonably competent cyclist in all of the circumstances.
[80]         Mr. Nelson suffered serious harm and damage as a result of the Accident.  The damage has two proximate causes:  the negligence of both parties.  In these circumstances, liability must be apportioned between the two.
[81]         In assessing the respective fault and blameworthiness of the parties I must evaluate the extent or degree to which each departed from the standard of care owed under the circumstances.
[82]         In balancing blameworthiness, I find Mr. Nelson’s conduct constituted a significant departure from the requisite standard of care which created a risk of serious harm.  He was aware of the Truck travelling eastbound on his left but focused only on his own path forward and did not check for an activated right turn signal, which was there to be seen.  Instead, he tried to pass the Truck on the right without first determining whether such a movement could be made safely.  In my view, such conduct was very careless.
[83]         Mr. Conarroe’s conduct also constituted a significant departure from the requisite standard of care, taking into account the vigilance reasonably to be expected of a professional truck driver.  He waited far too long to look carefully and thoroughly around himself as he prepared to turn right.  This is particularly true given his knowledge of the Truck’s many blind spots.  In consequence, Mr. Conarroe was unaware of the fact that Mr. Nelson was cycling hard and fast in the adjacent curb lane after the light changed colour at the Intersection.  This failure was not momentary or minor, and it carried the risk of foreseeable harm of considerable magnitude.  In my view, however, it was not of the same degree as Mr. Nelson’s failure to take reasonable care for his own safety in attempting to pass a right-turning Truck on the right.
[84]         In all of the circumstances, I conclude that 65% of the fault for the Accident should be borne by Mr. Nelson and 35% should be borne by Mr. Conarroe.

Cyclist Found Fully At Fault For Collision With Vehicle


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, addressing the issue of fault following a serious collision between a cyclist and a vehicle.
In today’s case (Ireland v. McKnight) the Plaintiff was a doctor who was involved in a “career-ending road traffic incident” in 2007.   The Plaintiff was travelling southbound on his bicycle on Henderson Road.  At the same time the Defendant passed the Plaintiff in the same direction of travel.  At this time a collision between the bicycle and vehicle occurred.
The Court heard competing theories about how the collision occurred but ultimately found that the Plaintiff drove into the vehicle and was fully responsible for the crash.  In dismissing the lawsuit Mr. Justice Wilson provided the following reasons:

[22]         I find the defendants’ theory of how contact occurred to be the more plausible.

[23]         I find the front wheel of the bike contacted the right rear quarter panel of the car, behind the right rear wheel well.

[24]         If, as the plaintiff argues, the car was on a collision course with the bike, or failed to adjust sufficiently to avoid a collision course, then I find that the right front corner of the car would have struck the bike.  The evidence does not support such a finding.

[25]         I conclude that the plaintiff moved the bike to the left, concurrently with the turn of head in that direction.  But for the plaintiff moving the bike, there would have been no contact between the bike and the car.

[26]         I find the defendant driver passed the bike at a safe distance, and, on the evidence, that at least three-quarters of the car length had passed the bike before contact occurred.

[27]         In result, I find the defendant driver not liable for the incident.  It follows that the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant driver, pursuant to s. 86 of the Motor Vehicle Act, fails.

Bus Driver Found 50% Responsible For Collision With Cyclist Riding in Crosswalk


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing the issue of fault for a collision between a school bus and a cyclist.
In today’s case (Torok v. Sekhon) the Plaintiff was travelling southbound on a sidewalk in Surrey, BC.  He was travelling on the left side of the street.    At the same time the Defendant was operating a school bus and driving in the opposite direction of travel.  As the Defendant approached an intersection he put on his right turn signal and proceeded to make a right turn.  The Plaintiff, who was travelling down hill, did not yield and entered the roadway from the sidewalk.  A collision occurred.
Mr. Justice Smith was asked to determine the issue of fault.  The Court found that both parties were equally at fault for the collision.  In reaching this decision Mr. Justice Smith reasoned as follows:

[18]         The essential fact in this case is that Mr. Sekhon did see Mr. Torok and Mr. Kolba approaching the intersection at which he planned to turn. Moreover, he was driving in an area and at a time of day when the presence of children was to be expected. The duty on a driver in such a situation was recently summarized by Greyell J. in Chen v. Beltran, 2010 BCSC 302 at para. 27:

[27]      The general principle underlying any determination of fault or blameworthiness rests on a finding whether the defendant could reasonably foresee that his or her conduct would cause or contribute to the accident. When it is known there are young children in the area drivers must use extra care and attention as children do not always behave as adults would in similar circumstances. In Chohan v. Wayenberg (1990), 67 D.L.R. (4th) 318 (B.C.C.A.), the Court of Appeal stated at 319:

… There is, of course, a need for constant vigilance for children on the roads, especially in suburban areas, for the very reason that they can not be expected always to act with the same care that is expected of adults.

[19]         The plaintiff in Chen was 11 years old. The plaintiff in this case was somewhat older, but still of an age when a reasonable driver would know that he would not necessarily act “with same care that is expected of adults”. Indeed, the tendency of teenagers to engage in reckless behaviour is well known.

[20]         Having seen Mr. Torok and knowing that their paths were about to cross, the duty of Mr. Sekhon was to proceed with caution and to complete his turn only when he could do so safely. That meant either satisfying himself that he could complete his turn before the boys reached the intersection or, more prudently, slowing or stopping until he knew that the boys had either passed the intersection or had stopped to allow him to pass.

[21]         Mr. Sekhon failed to take either precaution. Although he clearly saw the boys and knew their direction of travel before his turn, he was apparently unaware of their location as he was actually making the turn. There is no evidence of anything that would have prevented Mr. Sekhon from stopping briefly in order to ensure that he could turn safely. I therefore find that, in the circumstances, Mr. Sekhon failed to take sufficient care and was negligent.

[22]         However, I find that Mr. Torok also failed to take reasonable care for his own safety. He was riding his bicycle on a sidewalk, then into a crosswalk, and was riding on the left, rather than the right side of the road. All of those actions are violations of s. 183(2) of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318. He was also riding without a helmet, in violation of s. 184. Mr. Torok was of sufficient age and experience to know, and in fact did know, that he was riding in an illegal manner. He also knew that he was approaching an intersection at a high speed and needed to be aware of the possibility of vehicles turning either into or from 150th Street. He saw the approaching school bus and failed to notice its turn signal. As a result, I find that Mr. Torok was contributorily negligent.

[23]         In such circumstances, the apportionment of liability must be based on the degree to which each of the parties was at fault, not on the degree to which each party’s fault caused the damage:  Bradley v. Bath, 2010 BCCA 10 at para. 25. In Bradley, the Court of Appeal adopted the following passage from Fleming on The Law of Torts:

[25]      The concept of contributory negligence was described in John G. Fleming, The Law of Torts, 9th ed. (Sydney: LBC Information Services, 1998) at 302, as follows:

Contributory negligence is a plaintiff’s failure to meet the standard of care to which he is required to conform for his own protection and which is a legally contributing cause, together with the defendant’s default, in bringing about his injury. The term “contributory negligence” is unfortunately not altogether free from ambiguity. In the first place, “negligence” is here used in a sense different from that which it bears in relation to a defendant’s conduct. It does not necessarily connote conduct fraught with undue risk to others, but rather failure on the part of the person injured to take reasonable care of himself in his own interest. … Secondly, the term “contributory” might misleadingly suggest that the plaintiff’s negligence, concurring with the defendant’s, must have contributed to the accident in the sense of being instrumental in bringing it about. Actually, it means nothing more than his failure to avoid getting hurt …

[Emphasis in original; footnotes omitted.]

[24]         The facts of Bradley are somewhat similar to this case. There, a bicycle on the sidewalk collided with a vehicle that was coming out of a gas station. The Court of Appeal said at para. 28:

[28]      In my opinion, the plaintiff was at fault, and his fault was one of the causes of the accident. Contrary to law, he was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk against the flow of traffic. He saw the defendant’s vehicle moving towards the exit he was approaching. Rather than making eye contact with the defendant or stopping his bicycle and letting the defendant’s vehicle exit the gas station, the plaintiff assumed the defendant saw him and would not accelerate his vehicle. In these circumstances, he was at fault for continuing to ride his bicycle across the path to be taken by the defendant’s vehicle in exiting the gas station.

[25]         Although I have found that Mr. Torok, at age 14, was old enough to be found contributorily negligent, I must still consider his age in the apportionment of fault. His conduct is to be measured against what is to be expected of a reasonable person of his age and experience, not against the standard of an adult:  see Parker v. Hehr, (20 December 1993), Vancouver B914957 (B.C.S.C.), citing Ottosen v. Kasper (1986), 37 C.C.L.T. 270 (B.C.C.A.); and McEllistrum v. Etches, [1956] S.C.R. 787.

[26]         In the circumstances, I find that Mr. Torok and Mr. Sekhon were equally at fault. Each saw the other and each failed to take the necessary precautions to allow for the other’s presence and possible movements. Balancing all of the factors, including Mr. Torok’s violations of the governing statute, his age, and Mr. Sekhon’s knowledge of the nature of the area and the likely presence of young people, I cannot say that one party is more culpable than the other. I therefore find that the defendants must bear 50 per cent of the liability for the accident.

Can You Successfully Sue For Injuries in a "No Impact" Collision?

Further to my previous post on this topic, the law is clear that a Plaintiff can successfully sue a Defendant for physical injuries even if the Defendant never makes contact with a Plaintiff.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.
In today’s case (Bern v. Jung) the Plaintiff was injured in 2 separate incidents.  In the first incident the Plaintiff was riding a bike down a ramp into a parkade.  At the same time the Defendant was leaving the parkade and drove his vehicle ‘in the wrong direction in the entrance lane towards the ramp area‘.  The Plaintiff “immediately applied his brakes, losing control of his bicycle and falling over the handlebars.  He fell out into the roadway.   Fortunately (the Defendant) was able to avoid striking (the Plaintiff)”.
The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff should bear some responsibility.  Mr. Justice Powers disagreed and found that the Defendant was 100% responsible for the incident despite not striking the Plaintiff.  In reaching this decision Mr. Justice Powers noted as follows:

[13]        I find that the defendant has not proven that Mr. Bern was contributorily negligent.  Mr. Bern was entitled to assume that other people would be acting properly.  The evidence does not establish that his speed was excessive to the extent that it was negligent.  I find that the sole cause of the accident was Mr. Jung’s decision to take a shortcut and travel against the direction in which traffic was supposed to flow and could reasonably be expected to flow.

[14]        Mr. Bern lost control of his bicycle and fell because of the sudden and unexpected presence of Mr. Jung’s vehicle travelling in the wrong direction.  Mr. Bern was forced to act quickly and to apply his brakes forcefully.  He essentially acted in the agony of the collision and should not be found contributorily negligent because he did so.

[15]        I find that Mr. Jung is 100% liable for the accident on June 21, 2007.

The Plaintiff suffered various injuries including pain in his clavicle, one or two fractured ribs, a fractured right triquetrum (a small bone on the outside portion of the back of the hand) and broken teeth which required dental work and root canals.
Some of the injuries were aggravated in a subsequent rear end accident.  The Court went on to award the Plaintiff $50,000 for his non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) as a result of both accidents.  In reaching this figure Mr. Justice Powers summarized the effect of the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:
[36] I find that Mr. Bern indeed was a physically active and motivated individual before the first accident.  He made an honest effort to attempt to return to his prior physical active state, but is continuing to have some difficulty because of the soft tissue injuries, leaving him with lingering symptoms.  The second accident aggravated those injuries and probably extended the time in which they will affect Mr. Bern.  The second accident aggravated the problems he had with his shoulder, neck and back.  The aggravation of his pain and problems he is suffering in attempting to exercise also added to his depression and anxiety.  I accept that on occasion he is anxious about driving and that this results from the second motor vehicle accident, but that it does not prevent him from driving…
[40] I do find, however, that on the balance of probabilities, in other words that it is more likely than not, that those symptoms will be reduced over time…
[44] I find that general damages should be $50,000.00.  I apportion $15,000.00 of that amount to the second accident.  I am satisfied that the second accident aggravated the existing injuries and contributed to some additional injuries.  However, the significant injuries and pain and suffering arise from the first accident.

BC Court of Appeal Finds Cyclist 50% at Fault for "Cycling Between Lanes"


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal addressing the issue of fault for a cyclist involved in an intersection crash.
In today’s case (MacLaren v. Kucharek) the Plaintiff cyclist was injured when he was travelling through an intersection in Surrey BC when he was struck by a left hand turning vehicle approaching from the opposite direction.  At  trial the driver of the vehicle was found 100% at fault.  The vehicle operator appealed and the BC High Court overturned the trial judgement and found the cyclist 50% at fault.
The roadway the cyclist was travelling on had one marked lane but as it approached the intersection it “widens…(and) although unmarked as two lanes, there is sufficient room for two vehicles to travel abreast within the one marked lane.”  Critical to the Court’s judgement was a finding that although unmarked, the roadway had “two de facto lanes” just prior to the intersection.
It was accepted that vehicles that drove in the right of these two defacto lanes were right turning vehicles. Vehicles that intended to drive straight through the intersection stayed in the left hand portion of the wide lane.  As the cyclist approached the intersection a vehicle in front of him in his direction fo travel stopped and left a “gap in the traffic lined up behind the intersection“.  The Plaintiff passed this traffic on the right and entered the intersection (basically travelling down the centre of these two defacto lanes).  At the same time the Defendant made a left hand turn into the intersection resulting in collision.  The Defendant testified that he never saw the cyclist prior to the crash.
The driver was found at fault for failing to see the cyclist.  In finding the cyclist 50% at fault the BC Court of Appeal provide the following reasons:
The question that arises, however, is whether Mr. MacLaren should have “taken the lane”; that is, ridden behind the other traffic in the lane, rather than do what he did which was to put himself beside vehicles in that lane and to pass them on the right…

…In my view it is not so much that Mr. MacLaren was passing on the right when he was struck by the appellant, but that he was riding between what were effectively two lanes of travel before entering the Laurel Drive intersection.  In my view, s. 183(2)(c) (which required him to ride as near as practicable to the right side of the highway), did not authorize him to ride between two lanes of travel.  For Mr. MacLaren to ride between two unmarked but commonly travelled lanes immediately prior to reaching the Laurel Drive intersection was dangerous because a northbound left-turning driver would have little opportunity to see him as he cycled alongside vehicles to his left.  In my view, given the configuration of the roadway and the pattern of traffic in this case, for Mr. MacLaren to cycle alongside vehicles to his left created a danger both to himself and to the appellant.

[29] While Mr. MacLaren did the right thing by moving out of the curb lane, he should have moved in behind the vehicles travelling toward the “through” lane, not beside them.  By cycling between lanes Mr. MacLaren did not show sufficient care for his own person to avoid a finding of contributory negligence.  Taking a lane was the only way, in my view, that a bicyclist could have satisfied the mandate of s. 183(2)(c) to safely travel as near as practicable to the right of the highway…

I am of the view that the trial judge erred in failing to conclude that Mr. MacLaren, in choosing to ride in between the two travel lanes and beside the stopped pick-up rather than in the lane of travel behind it, did not take reasonable care for his own safety.  His failure to take reasonable care for his own safety was one of the causes of the accident.  Mr. MacLaren was therefore contributorily negligent.

Court of Appeal Discusses Liability of Cyclists Riding In Crosswalks


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal discussing the law of negligence with respect to cyclists who are struck by a vehicle while riding on a cross-walk.
In today’s case (Bradley v. Bath) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2003 BC Cycling/Motor Vehicle Accident.  He was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk heading towards a gas station.  At the same time the Defendant was driving a car attempting to exit the gas station.  The Defendant struck the Plaintiff.  The Plaintiff sued for damages and succeeded.  The trial Judge Found the Defendant 100% at fault and damages of $396,753 were awarded.  In coming to her conclusion  she stated  “the plaintiff was not contributory negligent because the plaintiff could have been struck by the defendant’s vehicle if he had been a jogger, rollerblader or regular pedestrian rather than riding his bicycle.  Thus, she concluded that the plaintiff’s breach of the Motor Vehicle Act was not causally connected to the accident.
The Defendants appealed arguing, amongst other things, that the Trial Judge was wrong in finding the motorist 100% at fault.  The Appeal was successful and the Court of Appeal concluded that the cyclist was 50% at fault for the crash.  In reaching this decision Mr. Justice Tysoe stated as follows:

[27] In my respectful view, the trial judge did not ask the correct question.  The proper question was not whether a jogger, rollerblader or pedestrian could have been hit by the defendant’s vehicle.  The correct inquiry was to determine whether the plaintiff failed to take reasonable care for his own safety and whether his failure to do so was one of the causes of the accident.  While the judge acknowledged that the plaintiff was under a heightened duty of care because he was in breach of the law by riding his bicycle on the sidewalk, she failed to give effect to the heightened duty because she did not consider what care had been taken by the plaintiff when he saw the defendant’s vehicle moving towards the exit from the gas station.

[28] In my opinion, the plaintiff was at fault, and his fault was one of the causes of the accident.  Contrary to law, he was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk against the flow of traffic.  He saw the defendant’s vehicle moving towards the exit he was approaching.  Rather than making eye contact with the defendant or stopping his bicycle and letting the defendant’s vehicle exit the gas station, the plaintiff assumed the defendant saw him and would not accelerate his vehicle.  In these circumstances, he was at fault for continuing to ride his bicycle across the path to be taken by the defendant’s vehicle in exiting the gas station…

[30] I am of the view that the fault of the parties in this case is equal.  The plaintiff’s fault was riding his bicycle on a sidewalk against the flow of traffic and continuing to ride across the path of the exiting vehicle without ensuring his way was clear.  The defendant’s fault was his failure to keep a proper lookout when exiting the gas station.  I do not believe that one party is more culpable than the other.

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of “In Trust” Claims and awards for “Diminished Earning Capacity” which can be found at paragraphs 37 – 52 of the Reasons for Judgement.

BC Personal Injury Law Round Up

The volume of ICBC and other personal injury cases released by our Superior Courts over the past 2 days has been higher than usual so I present today’s BC Injury Law Update in a ‘round up‘ fashion.
The first case of note was from the BC Court of Appeal and dealt with limitations under the Local Government Act.  When suing a local government for damages a Plaintiff must comply with s. 286 of the Local Government Act which holds in part that a Plaintiff must give “notice in writing…within 2 months from the date on which the damage was sustained“.  Failure to comply with this section can be a bar to suing.  An exception to this limitation period, however, is contained in s. 286(3) which holds that:

(3)        Failure to give the notice or its insufficiency is not a bar to the maintenance of an action if the court before whom it is tried, or, in case of appeal, the Court of Appeal, believes

(a)        there was a reasonable excuse, and

(b)        the defendant has not been prejudiced in its defence by the failure or insufficiency.

Today the BC Court of Appeal dealt with the issue of what is a ‘reasonable excuse’.

In today’s case, Thauili v. Delta, the Plaintiff sued for injuries sustained while in a fitness class in a community center operated by Delta.  The Plaintiff did not give notice within the 2 months set out in s. 286 of the Local Government Act.  Delta brought a motion to dismiss the Plaintiff’s claim but this motion was dismissed.  Delta appealed to the BC Court of Appeal.  This too was dismissed and in so doing the BC Court of Appeal added clarity to the issues that can be considered when addressing a ‘reasobable excuse’ for not giving notice within the required 2 month period.  The highlights of this discussion were as follows:

[10] In Teller, a five-judge division of this Court considered the construction to be placed on the words “reasonable excuse”, taken in the context of s. 755 of the Municipal Act, R.S.B.C. 1979, c. 290.  Section 755 contained the same notice requirement found in s. 286(1) of the Local Government Act as well as the same saving provision now found in s. 286(3).  Although not identically worded, there is no difference in substance between s. 755 of the Municipal Act and s. 286 of the Local Government Act.

[11] Teller did not propound a test to determine what constitutes “reasonable excuse”.  Rather, Teller instructs that “all matters put forward as constituting either singly or together a reasonable excuse must be considered.” (at 388)  The question is whether it is reasonable that the plaintiff be excused, having regard to all the circumstances.

[12] Teller expressly overruled those trial decisions which had excluded ignorance of the law as a factor to be considered in deciding whether there was reasonable excuse for the failure to give notice. …

[37] There can be no doubt that after its pronouncement, Teller became – and has remained – the governing authority on the construction of “reasonable excuse” found in the saving provision in s. 755 of the Municipal Act.

[42] As to the purpose of the section, Southin J.A. said, at 383:

What then is the purpose of the section?  Clearly one of the purposes of the section is to enable a municipality to investigate a claim fully.  But that purpose is addressed by the second branch of the concluding sentence.  The only other purpose I can think of was to protect municipalities against stale claims in order to enable them to estimate their future liabilities and make budgetary provision for them.  But I know of no authority for that surmise. It really is difficult to make much sense out of the words “reasonable excuse” in the context….

43]         After considering the provenance of the section, the state of the law as revealed by the case authorities in 1957 when the provision was, in effect, newly enacted, and the case authorities, including Horie v. Nelson (1988), 20 B.C.L.R. (2d) 1, [1988] 2 W.W.R. 79 (C.A.), leave to appeal to S.C.C. refused 27 B.C.L.R. (2d) xxxv [Horie], Southin J.A. concluded, at 388:

[T]he maxim “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is not a rule of law determinative of an issue of statutory interpretation in every instance.

In the end, the question is simply what do the words at issue mean in the context.  In my opinion, ignorance of the law is a factor to be taken into account.  So for that matter is knowledge of the law. But all matters put forward as constituting either singly or together a reasonable excuse must be considered.

Those decisions of the court below which exclude ignorance of the law as a factor are, therefore, overruled.

[50] The decision in Teller does not propound a test or establish criteria which must be met before the court may find a reasonable excuse for the failure to give notice; instead, the decision invites a determination informed by the purpose or intent of the notice provision, taking into account all matters put forward as constituting either singly or together a reasonable excuse.  The determination of whether there is reasonable excuse is contextual.  The question is whether it is reasonable that the plaintiff be excused, having regard to all the circumstances.

Ultimately the Court held that ignorance of the law can be a reasonable excuse in certain circumstances under the Local Government Act.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

The second case released today dealt with Pain and Suffering Awards for Soft Tissue Injuries.  In this case (Robinson v. Anderson) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 rear end car crash in Tsawwassen, BC.  Liability was admitted leaving the court to deal with the value of the injuries.

Mr. Justice Bernard awarded the Plaintiff $25,000 for her non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).  In so doing he summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries and their effect on her life as follows:

[18] It is not disputed that the plaintiff sustained soft-tissue injuries to her neck, back, left shoulder and right knee in the collision. Similarly, there is no suggestion that the plaintiff is a dishonest witness who is prevaricating or exaggerating in relation to her pain and the various consequences it has wrought upon her life….

[22] Causation is established where the plaintiff proves that the defendant caused or contributed to the injury: see Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458, 140 D.L.R. (4th) 235. In regard to the instant case, I am satisfied that the plaintiff has proved that the defendant caused or contributed to the injury which has manifested itself in ongoing symptoms of pain. The evidence establishes consistency and continuity in the plaintiff’s symptoms (albeit with some amelioration) and an absence of any intervening cause which might otherwise account for the plaintiff’s current pain. A dearth of objective medical findings is not determinative; this is particularly so for soft tissue injuries.

[23] Notwithstanding the aforementioned causal link, the evidence strongly supports finding that: (a) the plaintiff’s injuries are not permanent; (b) if the plaintiff takes reasonable steps to improve her fitness level, then significant, if not full, recovery is very likely; and (c) if the plaintiff does take those reasonable steps, then recovery is attainable within a relatively short time frame. In this regard, the medical opinions of both Dr. Hodgson and Dr. Werry (on May 6, 2009 and April 9, 2009 respectively) suggest that the plaintiff’s present symptoms would decrease substantially through a reduction of her “habitus” (body size and shape), increased physical activity, and working through that which is sometimes described as “the pain of reactivation”.

[24] There are similarities between the plaintiff in the instant case and the plaintiff in Nair v. Mani, [1991] B.C.J. No. 2830. Ms Nair was 49 years of age, overweight, and physically unfit at the time she was injured in a motor vehicle collision. She complained of ongoing back, thigh and knee pain. The plaintiff was not a malingerer, but the court found that she could have accelerated her improvement and lessened the impact of her injuries through exercise and weight loss. In relation to the plaintiff’s fitness the court said:

A defendant must take her victim as she finds her, be it with a thin skull or an out of shape musculature. But when it comes to the reasonable efforts expected of a plaintiff to aid her own recovery after the accident, then those reasonable steps include exercise and muscle toning so that an injury may be shaken off more quickly.

[25] The plaintiff’s weight is not relevant to causation; however, it is germane to the plaintiff’s duty to mitigate her losses. It is trite law that a plaintiff has an ongoing duty to mitigate his or her damages. In the case at bar, as in Nair v. Mani, the plaintiff’s duty to mitigate includes taking reasonable steps to reduce her body habitus and increase her fitness level…

[28] Assessment of just and fair compensation for non-pecuniary losses by reference to other cases is a daunting task. Each case is unique in its plaintiff and set of circumstances; nonetheless, I accept that the cases cited by the parties assist in defining reasonable upper and lower limits for a non-pecuniary damages award in the case at bar. The most salient factors of the case at bar are: (a) the absence of proof of a permanent or long-term injury; (b) the existence of some amelioration of symptoms; and (c) the absence of enduring and incessant debilitating pain. In relation to (c), I accept that the plaintiff has suffered from pain since the accident and that it has had an adverse effect upon many aspects of her life; I simply note that the intensity of the pain has not been to the degree suffered by many other plaintiffs.

[29] Having due regard to all the foregoing and the cases cited by counsel, I find that a fair and just award for the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary losses is $25,000.

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In the third case released today the Court was asked to deal with the issue of fault when the occupant of a parked car opens his door and is struck by a cyclist.

In today’s case (Hagreen v. Su) the Defendant was parked and opened his car door.  As he did so the Plaintiff, who was travelling on his bicycle, drove into the open door and was injured.  The Defendant was found 100% at fault for the Plaintiff’s injuries and in so finding Mr. Justice Brooke summarized and applied the law as follows:

] On the day of the accident, Mr. Hagreen was wearing a helmet as well as reflective stripes on his jacket and boots and was proceeding eastward. Cars were parked on his right side in the 2400 block of East Broadway, and as a matter of course, the plaintiff said that while monitoring the vehicle traffic in the two lanes to his left, he also monitored the driver’s side of the parked cars, in order to alert himself to any potential risk. Mr. Hagreen estimated his speed at 25 to 30 km/hr when he said, without any warning, the driver’s door of Mr. Su’s vehicle opened; that he, Mr. Hagreen, yelled, “Whoa,” but immediately hit the door. He described his upper body hitting the door, and he injured his ankle as well when he hit the ground. Emergency services were called, the first responder being a fire truck before the ambulance arrived, and Mr. Hagreen was transported to hospital. He indicated that he believes that he passed out in hospital, but after being seen by a physician, he was told that he could go home. Mr. Hagreen said that when he tried to put his shirt on, he could not lift his left arm above his head, and this resulted in x-rays being taken of his left arm region. Mr. Hagreen saw his family doctor, Dr. Montgomery, who prescribed Tylenol and Codeine to treat the pain throughout the plaintiff’s upper body, principally in the area of the right collar bone. As a result of continuing complaints of pain in the left collar bone, the plaintiff was referred for physiotherapy which provided some relief for what he was told were soft tissue injuries. Mr Hagreen was off work for seven days, and on his return, he avoided heavy lifting and stretching which resulted in other employees having to do that work.

[4] The defendant, Mr. Su, said that on the day of the accident, it was raining and his child was ill, so he had moved the car to the front of the house to take the child to the doctor. He said that he checked what was behind him, and he saw a cyclist about six or seven houses back, and he felt that he had enough time to get out. He said that he put one leg out and turned his body when the bicycle crashed into the door. In cross-examination, Mr. Su acknowledged giving a statement shortly after the accident, and in that statement, he said that he opened the car door slightly and made shoulder check, then he opened the door further and moved both of his legs out, when he saw the bike approaching “really fast” and the resulting collision occurred. Mr. Su had earlier indicated that he had passed the test in English for a second language, although most of his customers speak Chinese rather than English. Mr. Su was asked in cross-examination whether it was true that he did not see the bicycle until the door was opened and that it was then too late, and he acknowledged that that was true but indicated that it was some few years past. It was put to Mr. Su that he did not see the bicycle until it was too late, to which he said yes, and it was put to him that that was the truth, to which he also said yes.

[5] I am satisfied that the defendant is solely responsible for the collision, having opened his door when it was unsafe to do so. Section 203(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318, says:

(1) A person must not open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so.

[6] I find that the defendant, Mr. Su, is wholly responsible for the collision and that the plaintiff took all reasonable steps available to him to avoid the collision, but that the door was not opened by Mr. Su until the plaintiff was so close that he had no opportunity to brake or to take evasive action. I now turn to the question of damages.

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The last ICBC related case released today dealt with the issue of costs.  In this case (Mariano v. Campbell) the Plaintiff sued for injuries as a result of a car crash.  The claim was prosecuted under Rule 66 and the trial took 4 days (which exceeds the 2 days allowed under Rule 66).

When a Plaintiff sues and succeeds in a Rule 66 lawsuit their ‘costs’ are capped at $6,600 “unless the court orders otherwise” as set out in Rule 66(29).

In today’s case the Plaintiff was awarded a total of just over $115,000 after trial.  She brought an application to be permitted an additional $3,200 in costs.  Madam Justice Loo allowed this application.  This case is worth reviewing in full to see some of the factors courts consider when addressing additional costs to the successful party in a Rule 66 Lawsuit.

Motor Vehicle Cases and Expert Reports Addressing Fault

I have written about the role expert witnesses play in ICBC Injury Claims on several occasions.  These past posts have largely dealt with expert medical witness who typically address the nature and extent of injuries caused by motor vehicle collisions.  What about experts addressing the issue of fault, can they play a role in BC personal injury claims?
The answer is yes but for a variety of reasons such witnesses typically are not involved in claims arising from car crashes.  This is so because in most car crash cases addressing fault expert evidence is not needed because judges and juries are able to use their common sense and collective life experience to determine who is at fault.  However, sometimes more unusual circumstances outside of most people’s typical life experience cause a collision such that expert evidence may be necessary.  Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing this issue.
In yesterday’s case (MacEachern v. Rennie) the Plaintiff was severely injured while “walking or riding her bicycle along the King George Highway…when her head struck the side of a large tractor-trailer“.
The Plaintiff’s lawyer tried to introduce an expert witness to give opinion evidence on the standard of care of professional drivers of tractor-trailers, whether the driver in this case met that standard and lastly with respect to evidence regarding the characteristics of large tractor trailers.
The defence lawyers objected to this witness claiming expert evidence was not necessary to assist the court in making findings of fault.  Mr. Justice Ehrcke of the BC Supreme Court disagreed and permitted this evidence in and in doing so engaged in a useful discussion about the role that expert witnesses play generally in BC cases addressing the issue of fault.  For your convenience I reproduce the highlights of this discussion below:

[10]            In Burbank v. R.T.B., 2007 BCCA 215 our Court of Appeal observed that while expert evidence on the standard of care is not usually required in negligence actions, it may be capable of assisting the trier of fact and admissible as necessary in certain cases, particularly where the subject matter is beyond the common understanding of the judge or jury.

[11]            In the present case, while most adults in British Columbia may have some experience in driving motor vehicles, few have experience in driving large commercial tractor-trailers.  Few would know from their common experience what the handling characteristics of such vehicles are, or what the visibility is from the perspective of a driver in the cab, or what the common driving practices are of professional drivers of such rigs.

[12]            Not only have most persons never had the experience of driving such vehicles, most persons would not even be legally permitted to drive them, since to do so one must first satisfy the requirements to obtain a special class of driver’s licence…

 

[15]            In Tucker (Public Trustee of) v. Asleson (1993), 78 B.C.L.R. (2d) 173 (C.A.), Southin, J.A. specifically addressed the issue of expert evidence in motor vehicle negligence actions and observed that a distinction ought to be made between cases involving motor cars and those involving large transport vehicles.  She wrote at pp.194-195:

To my mind, motor car negligence cases differ significantly from all other actions in which one person alleges that the acts or omissions of another in breach of a duty of care have done him injury.

First, the Legislature has laid down for motorists many rules of the road and many requirements concerning the equipping of vehicles, all of which the motorist is expected to obey and which he expects others to obey.  The only other aspect of ordinary life so governed is that of the movement of vessels upon certain navigable waters.  But I do not say that obedience to these rules relieves the motorist from all other obligations.  See British Columbia Electric Railway v. Farrer, [1955] S.C.R. 757.

Secondly, experts are not called to prove the standard of care which is appropriate. Each judge brings into court his or her own notions of what constitutes driving with reasonable care.  As I said in McLuskie v. Sakai in a passage quoted in the appeal from my judgment (1987), 12 B.C.L.R. (2d) 372 at 378 (C.A.):

The difficulty with these motor car cases and matters of negligence is that whatever we may be saying, what we are doing as judges is, in fact, applying our own knowledge of driving to the facts in the absence of any other evidence.  That is what a judge does every time he says that the defendant should have avoided an obvious obstruction.  I, on the balance of probabilities, am not satisfied that a competent driver coming upon that ice on that bridge on that morning with both hands on the wheel could have done other than Mr. Sakai did.  Therefore, it follows that I do not think he was negligent.

To put it another way, in motor car cases the judge is his or her own expert.  That is not to say that there could not be expert evidence on the proper way, for instance, for the driver of a mammoth transport vehicle to drive.  If, on such an issue, the plaintiff called an expert to say that such a vehicle should not be driven under certain circumstances at more than 40 miles per hour and the defendant called another expert who said the contrary, the learned trial judge could and usually would be obliged to choose one expert over the other.

[16]            Expert evidence on the standard of care has been considered in a number of negligence cases involving the operation of heavy vehicles.  See for example Millott Estate v. Reinhard, [2002] 2 W.W.R. 678 (Alta. Q.B.) and Fuller v. Schaff, 2009 YKSC 10.

[17]            I am satisfied that Mr. Eckert should be qualified as an expert witness and permitted to give opinion evidence in the areas outlined above.  I find that he has the necessary qualifications and that the evidence is necessary in the sense explained by the Supreme Court of Canada in Mohan.  What weight should be attached to his evidence is, of course, a matter that can only be determined at the end of trial.

Contact

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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