Tag: impaired driving

Passenger 35% To Blame For Riding With Impaired Driver

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing contributory negligence for a passenger who rides with an impaired motorist involved in a collision.
In today’s case (Telford v. Hogan) the Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle operated by the Defendant.  Both were drinking throughout the day.  As the vehicle was travelling at excessive speed on a highway the driver lost control resulting in a serious single vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff apparently interfered somehow with the steering wheel moments before the loss of control and the Court found the driver 75% at fault with the passenger shouldering 25% of the blame for this interference.  In addition to this the Court apportioned the Plaintiff’s contributory negligence at 35% for riding with an impaired motorist.  In reaching this conclusion Madam Justice Fitzpatrick provided the following reasons:

[103]     Despite the efforts of Ms. Telford’s counsel to distinguish the above cases, all of them bear some resemblance to this case in that the passenger and the driver embarked on a drinking exercise or “hazardous enterprise” where both knew or should have known that the intoxication of the driver was inevitable. I would repeat that Ms. Telford was well aware that Ms. Hogan was drinking over the course of the day and she had particular knowledge of the quantity of what Ms. Hogan consumed as the majority of it came from her own drink container. Although she may not have been aware of exactly what Ms. Hogan consumed from Ms. Ettinger’s cup, she would also have been aware that Ms. Ettinger’s beverage was alcoholic and that Ms. Hogan was sharing that too.

[104]     It does not follow that since Ms. Hogan was not exhibiting overt signs of impairment, one need not consider Ms. Telford’s lack of judgment in both offering her drink to Ms. Hogan and then getting in the vehicle being driven by Ms. Hogan for the trip home. To the extent that later in the day, Ms. Telford drank alcohol to the point of being severely intoxicated herself confirms that she failed to take reasonable steps to ensure her ongoing ability to assess her safety over the course of the trip home.

[105]     The cases cited by ICBC support the suggested range of apportionment of 30-35% for such a passenger who voluntarily rides with a drunk driver. The higher end of this range is amply supported, particularly by the fact that Ms. Telford herself provided most of the alcohol consumed by Ms. Hogan that day.

[106]     I assess Ms. Telford’s contributory negligence to be 35%.

On the Consequences of Impaired Driving

With New Year’s celebrations around the corner now is an opportune time to discuss the perils of impaired driving.  Below is a compelling first hand account of some of the real world consequences of this un-necessary act.
And remember, impaired walking is just as dangerous, if not more so, than impaired driving.  More pedestrians are killed on New Years than any other time.  Statistics bear out that “For every mile walked drunk, turns out to be eight times more dangerous than the mile driven drunk“.  Celebrate safely folks and Happy New Year!

I’d like to thank DriveSmat BC for bringing this clip to my attention.

$170,000 Non-Pecs for MTBI, Impaired Driver Found "Grossly Negligent"

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court awarding a Plaintiff just over $415,000 in total damages as a result of serious injuries occurring in a motor vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (Eggleston v. Watson) the pedestrian Plaintiff was struck by a vehicle driven by the Defendant.  The Defendant had just left a pub and had a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit.  the Defendant was criminally convicted for driving with an unlawful blood alcohol limit.
As a result of this criminal conviction the Defendant was in breach of his ICBC insurance.  He defended the lawsuit personally and ICBC defended as a statutory third party.
The Defendant never saw the Plaintiff (who was walking in the Defendant’s lane of travel in the same direction) prior to hitting him.   Despite this, and despite the criminal conviction, both the Defendant and ICBC argued that the Plaintiff was mostly at fault for this incident.  Mr. Justice Davies disagreed and found that the defendant was at fault holding that “(his) ability to operate a motor vehicle at the time that he struck (the Plaintiff) was so impaired by his consumption  of alcohol that his actions in so doing were not only negligent, but grossly negligent“.
The Court went on to find that while the Plaintiff was in violation of s. 182 of the Motor Vehicle Act at the time of the crash for not walking on the roadway facing oncoming traffic, he was not partially to blame for this crash.  In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Davies reasoned as follows:

[70]        The question is whether Mr. Eggleston’s own conduct in placing himself at some risk that a severely impaired driver would not see him in time to apply his vehicle’s brakes or otherwise avoid a collision requires an apportionment of some liability to him for his injuries.

[71]        In all of the circumstances I find, as did Kirkpatrick J. in Laface, that Mr. Watson’s conduct was so unforeseeable, and the risk of injury from Mr. Eggleston’s failure to take more care so unlikely that “it is simply not appropriate” to find that Mr. Eggleston was contributorily negligent.

[72]        If I am wrong in that conclusion, based upon the analysis and conclusions of Esson J.A. in Giuliani, I would assess Mr. Eggleston’s fault in failing to avoid the collision to be no more than 5%.

The Court then awarded the Plaintiff $170,000 for his non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) for his serious injuries which included a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI).  In arriving at this figure the Court provided the following reasons:

[145]     After considering the totality of the evidence in this trial including the medical evidence adduced by the parties, I have concluded that Mr. Eggleston has proven that it is more likely than not that he suffered a mild traumatic brain injury in the collision of June 9, 2009.

[146]     I also find that the mild traumatic brain injury he suffered is the primary cause of the emotional, social and cognitive difficulties he has exhibited and endured over the more than three years between the date of the accident and the start of the trial, and which will continue to impact his future suffering and enjoyment of life…

[157]     In addition to the mild traumatic brain injury that I find has been the primary cause of Mr. Eggleston’s past social, emotional, and cognitive problems as well his as continuing problems with serious headaches, all of which will likely continue to impact his future, as well as the balance difficulties that I find were caused by the collision, I also find that the evidence establishes on a balance of probabilities that Mr. Watson’s negligence caused the following physical injuries which Mr. Eggleston has suffered and from some of which continues to suffer:

1)        Significant soft tissue injuries and bruising which were ongoing until at least January of 2007 when he was seen by Dr. Travlos.

2)        A traumatic umbilical hernia which was successfully operated upon on May 29, 2007.

3)        Injuries to his right shoulder including a torn biceps tendon, impingement syndrome and a rotator cuff tear which were operated on without success on December 5, 2007, and which in the opinion of Dr. Leith, require further surgery.

4)        Injuries to his lower back which aggravated existing back problems from which he had largely recovered prior to the collision. Those lower back injuries have impacted on his ability to drive the water truck in his work for Mr. Palfi and in respect of which I accept Dr. Leith’s opinion of June 2, 2009.

[158]     In addition to those specific physical injuries, I accept the evidence of Dr. Travlos, Dr. Cameron, Dr. Smith and Dr. Bishop that Mr. Eggleston has suffered and continues to suffer from psychological problems arising from his brain injuries and the pain associated with the physical injuries suffered in the collision. That pain was chronic until at least June of 2009 but was relieved to a large extent by narcotic and other medications thereafter until Mr. Eggleston determined to wean himself off Dilaudid. He now again has more pain and is also likely suffering the continuing effects of withdrawal. However, his present work history convinces me that within the neurological and cognitive limits that may still compromise his recovery, his future suffering from chronic pain will likely be capable of amelioration with psychological counselling and pain management assistance without narcotic intervention.

[159]     In determining the appropriate award to compensate Mr. Eggleston for the injuries suffered in the collision, I have considered all of the injuries suffered by him that were caused by Mr. Watson’s negligence, their devastating effect upon his ability to enjoy the active life involving horses and his relationship with friends and family surrounding that lifestyle that he formerly enjoyed.

[160]     I have also considered the pain Mr. Eggleston has endured and will likely continue to endure at least at some level, the compromise of his role as the leader of his family and the loss of his self-esteem, the length of time over which he has already suffered those losses, the prospect of the continuation of those losses into the future, albeit at a less intense level than in the past, and the fact that he will again have to undergo surgery in an attempt to repair his shoulder injuries.

[161]     In addition, I have considered the situation that has existed since March of 2008 when Mr. Eggleston returned to work, in that the work he does drains him of energy so that his life has become somewhat one-dimensional, centering upon work and recovery from its daily effects upon him to the continued detriment of his ability to enjoy life.

[162]     Finally, I have considered all of the authorities which have been provided to me by counsel and which offer some guidance as to the appropriate range of damages for injuries such as those suffered by Mr. Eggleston but which are of course dependent on their unique fact situations.

[163]     I have concluded that in the totality of the circumstances an award of non-pecuniary damages in the amount of $170,000 will appropriately compensate Mr. Eggleston for his pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life caused by Mr. Watson’s negligence.

ICBC Injury Claims and the "Volenti" Defence

Volenti Non Fit Injuria is a Latin phrase which generally means that a plaintiff cannot sue a defendant where the Plaintiff has consented to or willingly accepted the risk of harm.   The Volenti Doctrine, when used successfully, can be a complete defence to a personal injury lawsuit.
The Volenti defence has been raised many times in ICBC Injury Claims where a passenger rides with a knowingly impaired driver who then loses control and injures the passenger.  Our Courts have severely limited the effectiveness of this defence over the years and reasons for judgement were released today demonstrating the difficulty is successfully arguing this defence.
In today’s case (Shariatmadari v. Ahmadi) the Plaintiff was severely injured when the driver of her vehicle lost control in Stanley Park, left the roadway and hit a tree.  The Defendant was drinking prior to losing control.  The claim went to Jury Trial and ICBC, on behalf of the Defendant, tried to raise the Volenti Defence.
Madam Justice Fenlon refused to put the defence to the jury finding that the evidence required for the defence to succeed was not present in the case at hand.  In coming to this conclusion she summarize the Volenti Defence in impaired driving cases and applied it as follows:

[3] The third party, Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (“ICBC”), who is defending this case on behalf of the deceased driver, wished to lead evidence of excessive drinking by the plaintiff, defendant, and mutual friends several nights a week for some time prior to the accident. ICBC also sought to lead evidence of the plaintiff occasionally driving following such evenings or letting the defendant drive her vehicle. They argued that this evidence, in conjunction with the fact that the plaintiff and defendant had a close personal relationship and were both driving impaired before the accident, will support a finding by the jury of a tacit agreement between the parties to assume any risk that might arise in relation to such driving – a finding which would support the defence of volenti non fit injuria.

[4] Counsel for the plaintiff offered to have the plaintiff testify on a voir dire to permit counsel for ICBC to argue the appropriateness of putting the volenti defence to the jury based on the actual evidence that could be elicited from the plaintiff. The third party was of the view, with which I agreed, that they could argue the appropriateness of putting the defence ofvolenti non fit injuria to the jury based on their “best case scenario”. I heard argument on that basis.

[5] Counsel for ICBC candidly acknowledged that in cases involving a plaintiff riding with an impaired driver, volenti is a difficult defence to prove in light of recent cases on the issue. In Hall v. Hebert, [1993] 2 S.C.R. 159 at 207, 101 D.L.R. (4th) 129, Cory J. in concurring reasons noted that the maxim volenti non fit injuria “stands for the proposition that no injury is done to one who consents.”  He stated the following at 207-208:

In order for the doctrine of volenti to apply, there must be either an express or implied assumption of the risk of the activity which caused the damage. That is to say, both parties to the activity must have agreed that they would participate in it regardless of the risk of injury and give up their right to sue should injury occur as a result of the agreed upon activity. It must be observed that the consent goes to the legal as opposed to the physical risk of harm (see Lehnert v. Stein, [1963] S.C.R. 38).

The volenti defence acts as a complete bar to recovery. Although it has not been the subject of legislation, it has been very severely limited in its application. Perhaps the judicial limitation was well merited in light of the harsh academic criticism of the defence. See Prosser, supra, at p. 454. Before it can operate as a defence, the plaintiff must not only consent to accept the risk of harm but also must bargain away his or her right to sue for injuries that may result from the dangerous activity. The doctrine will only be applied where it can truly be said that there is an understanding on the part of both parties that the defendant assumed no responsibility to take care for the safety of the plaintiff and the plaintiff did not expect him or her to do so. Clearly, the volenti defence will only be applicable in a narrow range of cases.

[6] In Joe v. Paradis, 2008 BCCA 57, 290 D.L.R. (4th) 556, the plaintiff had persuaded the defendant to drive him to a pub to obtain beer. Both parties were heavily intoxicated and the defendant drove off the road, injuring the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s action for damages was dismissed by a jury on the basis of the volenti defence. The issue before the British Columbia Court of Appeal was whether the defence of volenti non fit injuria should have been put to the jury. At para. 13, Mackenzie J.A. writing for the Court said:

[13]      There is no evidence of any express agreement between Mr. Joe and Mr. Paradis to absolve the latter from legal liability for negligent driving. The first issue is whether there was evidence from which a properly instructed jury could find an implied agreement to that effect. The first and third issues are inter-related: if there was no evidence to support the defence, the jury verdict is unsupported by evidence and therefore perverse.

[7] He noted further at paras. 16-22:

[16]      Commentators are generally critical of the volenti doctrine, particularly its application to passengers in motor vehicle accident cases: see, for example, G.H.L. Fridman,The Law of Torts in Canada, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 2002); Allen M. Linden and Bruce Feldthusen, Canadian Tort Law, 8th ed. (Markham, Ont.: Butterworths, 2002); Lewis N. Klar, Tort Law, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 2003); John G. Fleming, The Law of Torts, 9th ed. (Sydney: LBC Information Services, 1998); and Clerk & Lindsell on Torts, 19th ed. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2006). Clerk & Lindsell on Torts points out that volenti’s complete bar to recovery is inconsistent with comparative negligence statutes which allow the apportionment of responsibility and “a more finely adjusted justice between parties” (at §3-103). Professor Klar observes that the nominal standard of an implied waiver of legal liability will rarely be met, if taken seriously. He adds: “It is not realistic to impose this implied agreement upon parties who are frequently unaware of the legal niceties surrounding these types of events, and who are not deliberating upon the physical or legal risks of dangerous conduct” (at 482). It would be hard to find parties who better fit Professor Klar’s description than Mr. Joe and Mr. Paradis.

[20]      Interjecting the volenti defence short circuits the process and invites the jury to use the defence as a subterfuge to assign all responsibility for the accident to Mr. Joe notwithstanding that the theoretical basis of the doctrine, an implied agreement to waive legal liability, may be unsupported by the evidence. Unless the courts are prepared to condone the manipulation of the volenti doctrine to avoid the comparative fault regime of the Negligence Act, volenti should not be invoked unless there is evidence that the parties put their minds to the question of legal liability and expressly or tacitly made an agreement to waive liability that could be supported on basic contract law principles.

[21]      The weight of Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence and the critical commentaries support restricting the doctrine to cases where an agreement can be supported by the evidence. This case was not one of them.

[22]      The question left with the jury failed to clearly distinguish between the physical and legal risk of harm. The judge’s charge attempted to explain the distinction, but essentially in a vacuum as to evidence supporting acceptance of the legal risk of injury in contrast to the physical risk. Voluntary acceptance of the physical risk without acceptance of the legal risk is a contributory negligence issue and not volenti. [Emphasis added]

[8] In my view, even assuming the defendant’s best case scenario on the evidence elicited at trial, there is no evidence to support the plaintiff’s waiver of her legal right to sue for injuries, as distinct from evidence to support a willingness to assume the risk of injury itself. There is no evidence that the plaintiff and defendant turned their minds to the question of legal liability, and either expressly or tacitly made an agreement to waive liability that could be supported on basic contract law principles.

[9] In conclusion on this point, there is no evidence to support the defence of volenti; therefore that defence should not be put to the jury.

The Court did, however, go on to permit the Jury to hear evidence of the Plaintiff’s level of intoxication finding that “ here the evidence establishes that the plaintiff and defendant were together drinking over the evening and consuming roughly the same number of drinks (the evidence in this case), the level of the plaintiff’s intoxication is also relevant to her awareness of how intoxicated the defendant was at the time she let him drive her car.”.  Madam Justice Fenlon held this evidence was relevant in deciding whether the Plaintiff was ‘contributorily negligent‘ for riding as a passenger with a driver who had been drinking.

The Civil Consequences – ICBC and Drunk Drivers

As a BC personal injury lawyer that started out my career in criminal defence work I have seen both the civil and criminal consequences of drunk driving. Most people know about the criminal consequences but the civil consequences can be much worse.
If you are convicted of impaired driving, you will lose your license for some time, you will have a criminal record, you may even spend a little time in jail. When all is done you pick your life up and carry on. The civil consequences, on the other hand, are not always so easy to get away from.
Imagine these facts: You drive drunk. You hit another car and are at fault. Both cars are totaled. You are injured. The other driver is injured. What can the civil consequences be?
You will be in breach of your ICBC insurance. ICBC will not cover your medical expenses. ICBC will not pay for your lost wages. ICBC will not fix your car. ICBC pays off the other driver’s vehicle damage claim (let’s say $20,000). The other driver’s injury claim gets settled, lets say for $100,000. Now ICBC will come after you for the extent of the other drivers claims, $120,000 in this example.
Where does this leave you
1. No car (maybe still making car payments on a totaled car)
2. Injuries with mounting medical and rehabilitation debts
3. Lost wages
4. A massive debt to ICBC. Don’t feel like paying? Good luck having your insurance and driver’s license renewed. Thinking of driving on your suspended license? Say hi to your criminal lawyer when he visits you in jail.
The civil consequences can be a lot worse for impaired driving in BC than the criminal consequences. These can include a debt so great that it will take a lifetime to pay off. There are countless sound reasons not to drive drunk and the civil consequences of impaired driving will hit you hardest in pocket book.

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.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
Erik’s Philosophy

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