Tag: independent witnesses

A Tale of Two Accidents: More on the Importance of Independent Witnesses

As previously discussed, where motorists have different versions of events following a collision the evidence of independent witnesses can be crucial in addressing the issue of fault.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.
In this week’s case (Chang v. Alcuaz) the Plaintiff was involved in a two vehicle collision in 2008.  As she was travelling Eastbound on 33rd Avenue her vehicle was struck as she crossed Main Street.  The Defendant was travelling Southbound on Main Street at the time the vehicles collided.

The impact was severe with the plaintiff testifying that as she approached the intersection “she recalled that the colour of the traffic light was green” and that “she has no other recollection of the accident.  Her next memory is of waking up two days later in the hospital.
The Defendant disputed this version and gave evidence that he had the green light.  Mr. Justice McEwan ultimately preferred the Defendant’s evidence and dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim.  In reaching this conclusion the Court placed significant weight on the evidence of two independent witnesses who saw the collision.  Mr. Justice McEwan provided the following reasons for judgement:
[28] The evidence in this case is contradictory and unreliable in many of its details.  It is often difficult, in cases of this kind, to put much reliance on estimates of time and distance given by witnesses in connection with a surprising and traumatic event…


[29] Liability comes down to two questions:

(1)  who had the benefit of the light, and

(2)  was the operator of the vehicle with the benefit of the light, nonetheless responsible to some degree, in the circumstances.

[30] Respecting the first question, there is reason to doubt the plaintiff’s assertion that she had the benefit of a green light as she now asserts.  She was unconscious following the accident and her original statement is at odds with what she presently says.  It would be difficult to accept her version of the event without corroboration.

[31] The assistance offered by the witness, Ms. Currimbhoy, is highly debatable.  She, alone, among the witnesses, suggests that the event happened in daylight.  On a common sense basis, as I have indicated, she could not be right about her proximity to the plaintiff at the time of the collision.  There is also the difficulty that none of the other witnesses saw any other vehicle proximate to the collision.  There is a further difficulty posed by Mr. Humphrey’s flatly stated observation that he saw the woman who identified herself as a co-worker pull up after the collision.  It is not conclusively established that that was the same person, but it is telling that neither Mr. Jantzen, nor Mr. Humphrey, who observed the entire incident, noted any other vehicle near the scene.

[32] The defendant, Mr. Jantzen and Mr. Humphrey all say firmly that the defendant had the benefit of the green light when he entered the intersection.  Mr. Jantzen’s impression that the defendant may have been “timing” the light is borne out in the defendant’s description of what occurred, in that he says he slowed and then accelerated when he saw the light turn green.

[33] The evidence from the City of Vancouver respecting the timing of the lights that day at that intersection is also useful.  If the light was turning, an eastbound driver had 3.5 seconds of an amber light before the change.  For 1.5 seconds traffic in all directions is governed by a red light.  This means that by the time the light turns to green, eastbound traffic, at any reasonable speed, has had a warning and ample time to stop.

[34] The scenario posted by the plaintiff that the light was green or green turning amber as she hit the intersection would imply a red light north and southbound that continued for five seconds after the defendant entered the intersection.  This would preclude any impression of the defendant “timing” the light because he would have entered fully on red.  That is not in accordance with the observation of Mr. Jantzen or of his passenger, Mr. Humphrey.  Both were credible and balanced witnesses who were not caught up in the event themselves except to witness it.  Mr. Jantzen, in particular, was paying specific attention to the light because he had been waiting for it to change.  His view was unobstructed.

[35] I am satisfied, on the basis of a consideration of all the evidence, that at the time the collision occurred the defendant had the benefit of the green light and that the plaintiff should not have been in the intersection when the collision occurred.

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of fault for motorists who “time a green light“.  The Plaintiff argued that if she did run a red light the Defendant was partially to blame because he timed his green light.  Mr. Justice McEwan dismissed this argument but in doing so provided a useful overview of the law at paragraphs 36-46 of the reasons for judgement.

The Important Role of Independent Witnesses in Motor Vehicle Collision Lawsuits


When a crash happens its not unusual for the parties involved to have different versions of who is to blame.  When this occurs determining who will be found at fault in a subsequent lawsuit can be a difficult task.  When there are impartial and independent witnesses, however, the task of picking between differing versions can become easier.  This was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In today’s case (Hough v. Dyck) the Parties were involved in a 2007 motor vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff’s pick up truck was rear-ended by the Defendant’s car.  The Plaintiff sued alleging the Defendant was at fault for driving carelessly.  The Defendant disagreed arguing that the Plaintiff cut in front of him and “abruptly stopped” leaving him without adequate time and space to safely bring his vehicle to a halt.
An independent witness to the collision came forward and provided the Court with her account as to what occurred.  She verified the Defendant’s evidence that the Plaintiff cut the Defendant off and then slammed on his brakes.  Ultimately the Court preferred the Defendant’s version of events and dismissed the lawsuit.  In doing so Madam Justice Baker provided the following comments:
[18] (The independent witness) Ms. Maynes testified that near the bottom of the hill, as traffic was approaching 92nd Avenue, she saw Mr. Hough’s vehicle pull across the double solid centre lines into the northbound lane, pass Mr. Dyck’s vehicle, swerve back into the southbound lane and then slam on its brakes.  She saw the brake lights of Mr. Dyck’s vehicle come on and saw the collision.  She said it was a minor impact, because of the relatively slow speed of travel due to heavy traffic….

[21]        I find Mr. Dyck to be a credible witness and I accept his testimony.  I consider Mr. Hough’s testimony to be inaccurate and unreliable.   The testimony of Ms. Maynes supports Mr. Dyck’s testimony that Mr. Hough caused the accident by first passing Mr. Dyck’s vehicle when passing was prohibited, as evidenced by a solid double centre line and then abruptly pulling back into Mr. Dyck’s lane and equally abruptly slamming on his brakes, for no good reason, and when it was foreseeable that a collision would result.  In doing so, he was negligent, and his negligence was the sole cause of the accident.

[22]        I am not persuaded that anything done or omitted to be done by Mr. Dyck caused or contributed to the accident.  He was cut off when Mr. Hough pulled back into his lane of travel and then stopped abruptly.

[23]        It follows that the action must be dismissed.  Mr. Dyck shall have his costs, payable by Mr. Hough, on Scale B.

The lesson motorist should take from this case is that independent witnesses can be vital to the success or failure of a personal injury lawsuit where fault is contested.  Following a collision, if possible, it is a good idea to take down the names and contact information of witnesses to the event prior to leaving the scene of the crash.

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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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