Tag: rear end crashes

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.

Rear-Ended Motorist Found 75% at Fault for Stopping for "No Apparent Reason"


As I’ve previously written, If a vehicle is involved in a rear-end collision the rear motorist is usually found 100% at fault.  There are exceptions to this general rule, however, and one such exception was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry.
In today’s case (Yacub v. Chipman) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2007 collision in Surrey, BC.  Her vehicle was rear-ended by a truck driven by the Defendant.  She sued for damages and the Court was asked to decide who was at fault.
The Court heard different versions of how the collision occurred but ultimately found that as the Plaintiff entered an intersection she stopped for “no apparent reason” and was then rear-ended by the Defendant.  Mr. Justice Truscott found the Plaintiff was 75% to blame for this crash.  In coming to this finding the Court provided the following reasons:

[44]         I accept the evidence of these same two witnesses as well that the plaintiff told Mr. Chipman she had stopped in the middle of the intersection out of concern that a vehicle about to left turn was going to do so in front of her.

[45]         Unfortunately the plaintiff herself does not give this as a reason for her stopping in the middle of the intersection and there is no evidence of any vehicle proposing to turn left making any movement to do so that would support any concern that she might have had in that regard.

[46]         In the absence of any such evidence she is not able to meet the requirement of s. 189(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act that she did so to avoid conflict with traffic and I must conclude that she violated s. 189(1)(c) in stopping in the middle of the intersection for no apparent reason.

[47]         This breach also puts her in violation of s. 144(1)(a) and (b) in driving without due care and attention and without reasonable consideration for Mr. Chipman using the highway behind her.

[48]         I accept the evidence of Ms. Hallett that Mr. Chipman was only about one car length behind the plaintiff’s vehicle as the plaintiff’s vehicle entered the intersection…

[51]         Accordingly I conclude that as Mr. Chipman entered the intersection he was following more closely than was reasonable and prudent having regard to the speed of the two vehicles contrary to s. 162(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act.

[52]         This also put him in breach of s. 144(1)(a) and (b) for the same reasons.

[53]         In my view the fair conclusion from these findings is that liability should be apportioned against the plaintiff 75% and against the defendant 25% and an order will go to that effect. The plaintiff’s liability is greater because Mr. Chipman would have no reason to think she would stop in the middle of the intersection while the plaintiff had to know that this would be unexpected to following traffic.

Motorist Found At Fault for BC Car Crash Despite Being Rear-Ended

Further to my previous posts on this topic, the law is clear that a motorist who is rear-ended by another can be found at fault.  Such an outcome is somewhat unusual but given the right circumstances it can occur.  Reasons for judgement were released to today demonstrating this.
In today’s case (Cue v. Breitkreuz) the Plaintiff’s vehicle was involved in a rear-end collision.   He testified that he was rear-ended by the Defendant while he was stopped waiting to make a left hand turn.  An independent witness contradicted this account and testified that “the Plaintiff’s car accelerated, moved in front of the (defendant’s) truck, then slammed on the brakes” leaving the defendant with “(no) chance to stop before sliding into the plaintiff’s car”.
Mr. Justice Smith preferred the independent witness’ evidence over the Plaintiff’s and found the front motorist entirely at fault.  In reaching this conclusion the Court gave the following brief but useful summary of the law:

[15] Where there has been a rear-end collision, the onus shifts to the following driver to show that he or she was not at fault:  Robbie v. King, 2003 BCSC 1553 at para. 13. It is also the case that the driver of a following vehicle must allow a sufficient distance to stop safely in the event of a sudden or unanticipated stop by the vehicles ahead:  Pryndik v. Manju, 2001 BCSC 502 at para. 21, aff’d 2002 BCCA 639; and Rai v. Fowler, 2007 BCSC 1678 at para. 30.

[16] On the evidence before me in this case, I find that the defendant has discharged the onus upon him. I find that the plaintiff, by changing lanes in the manner that he did, created the situation in which the defendant did not have a safe stopping distance behind the plaintiff’s vehicle. Had the plaintiff not stopped, the defendant would have had the opportunity to slow down and allow the distance between them to increase. But when the plaintiff stopped immediately following the lane change, the defendant had no chance to avoid the collision. The defendant had no reason, in the moments leading up to the accident, to anticipate the plaintiff’s lane change and stop.

BC Court of Appeal Discusses Rear End Crashes and Permitted Inferences of Negligence

Usually when a driver rear-ends another vehicle that driver is at fault.  However, this is not always the case and reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal addressing this area of law.
In today’s case (Singleton v. Morris) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear end collison in 2005.  She sued the owner and driver of the vehicle that rear-ended her claiming negligence.  The driver of the rear vehicle gave evidence that the collision happened not due to carelessness, but as a result of an unexpected slippery substance on the road (perhaps brake fluid) and this caused her to lose control and collide with the Plaintiff vehicle.  This evidence was accepted and the Plaintiff’s claim was dismissed by the trial court.
The Plaintiff appealed the finding arguing that the trial judge was wrong.  The Court of Appeal disagreed and dismissed the appeal.  In doing so the Court discussed the permitted inferences of negligence in rear end crashes cases and the burden of proof.  The highlights of the Courts discussion were as follows:

[32] The burden of proof in cases of negligence is set out in Fontaine v. British Columbia (Official Administrator), [1998] 1 S.C.R. 424. There, Mr. Justice Major stated that the maxim of res ipsa loquitur should be treated as expired. He said:

27        It would appear that the law would be better served if the maxim was treated as expired and no longer used as a separate component in negligence actions.  After all, it was nothing more than an attempt to deal with circumstantial evidence. That evidence is more sensibly dealt with by the trier of fact, who should weigh the circumstantial evidence with the direct evidence, if any, to determine whether the plaintiff has established on a balance of probabilities a prima facie case of negligence against the defendant. Once the plaintiff has done so, the defendant must present evidence negating that of the plaintiff or necessarily the plaintiff will succeed.  [Emphasis added.]

[33] Mr. Justice Major’s statement sets out the general approach in negligence cases.  That is, the trier of fact should weigh both the circumstantial evidence and the direct evidence, where available, in determining whether the plaintiff has established a prima facie case of negligence.  In cases involving both direct and circumstantial evidence, the circumstantial evidence, and any inferences that may be drawn from it, is but one component of the case.  Where, however, there is no direct evidence, circumstantial evidence and the inferences that may arise from it may form the entire basis of the plaintiff’s case.

[34] Importantly, as stated by this court in Marchuk v. Swede Creek Contracting Ltd. (1998), 116 B.C.A.C. 318 at para. 10:

… The legal burden of proof, of course, remains on the plaintiff throughout.

[35] Here, because the plaintiff failed to establish that the defendant was driving at an excessive speed, there was no direct evidence of negligence on the part of the defendant.  Therefore, the plaintiff was forced to rely on circumstantial evidence and sought to establish an inference of negligence because the accident was a rear-end collision.

[36] Madam Justice Newbury examined the drawing of such inferences and the rebutting of them through the defence of explanation in Nason v. Nunes, 2008 BCCA 203.  InNason, a car had gone off the road. Newbury J.A. said:

[14]   … This is not to suggest that an inference may not be drawn as a matter of fact in a particular case, where a vehicle leaves the road or a driver loses control; but as the trial judge stated … such an inference will be “highly dependent on the facts” of the case and the explanation required to rebut it will “vary in accordance with the strength of the inference sought to be drawn by the plaintiff.”  [Emphasis in original.]

[37] In Fontaine, Mr. Justice Major applied the law relating to such inferences and the defence of explanation to the facts of the case before him, stating:

33        If an inference of negligence might be drawn in these circumstances, it would be modest.  The trial judge found that the defence had succeeded in producing alternative explanations of how the accident may have occurred without negligence on Loewen’s part.  Most of the explanations offered by the defendants were grounded in the evidence and were adequate to neutralize whatever inference the circumstantial evidence could permit to be drawn.  The trial judge’s finding was not unreasonable and should not be interfered with on appeal.

[38] Thus, in cases such as this, the trial judge may – but is not required to – draw an inference of negligence from the fact there was a rear-end collision.  The defence, however, may attempt to rebut such inferences through the defence of explanation.  A defence of explanation, as stated in Hackman v. Vecchio (1969), 4 D.L.R. (3d) 444 at 446 (B.C.C.A.) is an explanation of how an accident may have occurred without the defendant’s negligence.  The defendant does not bear the onus of proving how the accident did happen.  The trial judge drew an inference of negligence in this case.  She said, “In this case, given that this was a rear-end collision in which the truck was properly stopped and was there to be seen, there is a prima facie case of negligence.”  Further, the trial judge correctly noted that Mrs. Morris “has to advance an explanation as to how the collision may have occurred without negligence on her part.”

[39] Here, the inference of negligence was, as the trial judge correctly held, adequately explained.  The plaintiff had failed to establish that Mrs. Morris was driving at an excessive speed or braked too late.  The trial judge accepted the defendant’s explanation of the presence of the oily substance on the road.  The explanation was “adequate to neutralize whatever inference the circumstantial evidence could permit to be drawn.”  The trial judge’s finding was not unreasonable and should not be interfered with on appeal.

[40] I would dismiss the appeal.

Can A Motorist Be At Fault For Being Rear-Ended?

(Please not the case discussed in the below post was overturned by the BC Court of Appeal who ordered a new trial.  You can read the BCCA decision by clicking here)
While unusual the answer is yes.  Reasons for judgement were released today discussing this area of the law.
In today’s case (Skinner v. Guo) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 BC Car Crash.  The Plaintiff was driving on Highway 1 when he rear-ended the Defendant’s vehicle which was stationary in the Plaintiff’s lane of travel.  The Defendant did not give any evidence at trial although it appears the Defendant stopped because he struck a coyote.  Given the Defendant’s lack of explanation for being stopped in a travelled portion of the roadway the Court found that he was in violation of s. 187 of the Motor Vehicle Act.
The Plaintiff argued that the Defendant was at fault for the collision for stopping his vehicle and failing to activate his emergency flashers.  Mr. Justice Harvey disagreed and found the Plaintiff 100% at fault for failing to see a stationary vehicle that was there to be seen.  Before dismissing the case Mr. Harvey said the following with respect to fault when a motorist rear ends another in British Columbia:

[15] All of the cases referred to me by counsel note that there is a high onus on a following driver, as stated in Molson v. Squamish Transfer Ltd. (1969), 7 D.L.R. (3d) 553 (B.C.S.C.).  One principle to be extracted from the rear?end cases is that when one car runs into another from behind, the onus is on the driver of the rear car to show that the collision was not occasioned by his fault.  However, each case must be decided upon its facts, and I have been referred to cases where substantial liability has been imposed upon the front driver and others where the following driver has been assessed one hundred percent of the claim.  I do not find this case similar to the authorities referred to me by counsel for the plaintiff, which include McMillan v. Siemens, [1994] B.C.J. No. 2546 (S.C.); Lloyd v. Fox (1991), 57 B.C.L.R. (2d) 332 (C.A.); and W.K. Enterprises Ltd. v. Stetar, [1976] B.C.J. No. 484 (S.C.).  In each of those cases the hazard created by the negligence of the driver who had stopped his vehicle was not apparent for either reasons of weather conditions or the design of the roadway until a point where the plaintiff’s vehicle was much closer than was the case here.

[16] Baker v. Cade, [1999] B.C.J. No. 239 (S.C.), has facts which are most analogous to the case at bar.  There, the collision involved two cars and a motorcycle.  The first car stopped in the middle of a bridge, and the car immediately behind that car came to a stop as well, without activating emergency flashers.  The plaintiffs were following behind on a motorcycle.  The stopped vehicles were approximately 800 feet away when the plaintiff crested the bridge and had a view of what was happening.  The plaintiffs were unable to stop the motorcycle and collided with the rear of the second vehicle, suffering significant injury.  The role of the driver of the second vehicle in that situation is analogous to that of the defendant in this case.  While Drost J. concluded that the driver of the second vehicle was negligent, he held that his negligence was not the proximate cause of the accident.  I reach the same conclusion here.

[17] The only distinguishing factor in this case is that the accident occurred at night.  However, I find as a fact that the area was well lit and the sight line of the plaintiff would have allowed him to the defendant’s stationary vehicle approximately a kilometre away.  Indeed, the plaintiff says he did see the defendant’s vehicle, but that he did not determine until it was too late that it was stopped.  Despite his description of the traffic, he took no evasive manoeuvres to avoid striking the rear of the defendant’s vehicle.  He believes he was some 20 to 30 yards away when he slammed on the brakes.

[18] Accordingly, the action is dismissed.

For more on this area of the law click here to read a case summary where a motorist was found partially at fault for being rear-ended.

$40,000 Pain and Suffering Awarded for TMJ, Hip Injury and STI's

Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court (Pavlovic v. Shields) awarding a Plaintiff just over $134,000 in total damages as a result of injuries sustained in 2 separate motor vehicle collisions.
The first collision was in 2006 and the second in 2007.  Both were rear-end crashes and the Plaintiff was faultless in both collisions.  Often in ICBC Injury Claims involving multiple collisions where fault is not at issue damages are assessed on a global basis and that is what occurred in this case.
Mr. Justice Rice found that the Plaintiff had pre-existing back and shoulder pain before these accidents that that even without these accidents the Plaintiff would have continued to have pain in these areas.  The Court made the following findings with respect to the Plaintiff’s injuries and awarded $40,000 for her non-pecuniary loss (pain and suffering / loss of enjoyment of life):

[59]            In this case, the plaintiff had back and shoulder pain pre-dating both accidents.  This is a “crumbling skull” situation.  It is more probable than not that the plaintiff would have experienced ongoing problems with back pain, for which she had already seen a Dr. Ansel Chu on several occasions in 2003.  The plaintiff claims these injuries were fully resolved, and relies on Dr. Chu’s report of August 14, 2003, in which he states that the plaintiff had had good relief from pain following a series of trigger point injections.  However, Dr. Chu does not state that her injuries had resolved, merely that she was “doing quite well” and that she could make a further appointment with him if the pain flared up again.  That the plaintiff made no further appointments is likely explained by the fact that she went to Europe for an extended period shortly after her last appointment with Dr. Chu. 

[60]            The evidence from Dr. Petrovic’s report is that only two permanent injuries from the accidents are likely: the TMJ and the right hip.  He would defer to the experts on those and has a guarded prognosis for the remainder of her injuries.  Dr. Epstein testified that the TMJ injury is likely to improve with continued treatment.  Dr. Smit was of the opinion that the right hip would require surgery.   

[61]            I accept that the plaintiff had no pre-existing hip or jaw complaints and that these are her principal injuries.  The hip may require surgery and her jaw will require ongoing management and treatment.  The defendants are fully liable for these injuries.  Her other injuries – the neck, shoulder and back pain – are likely to improve over the next year.   The effects of the concussion resolved nine months after the accident.  Taking these factors into account, I consider an award of $50,000 in non-pecuniary damages appropriate in the circumstances, the bulk of which reflects the injuries to the jaw and hip, discounted by 20% to reflect the plaintiff’s pre-existing chronic back pain, for a total of $40,000.

Mr. Justice Rice also did a good job explaining 2 legal principles which often arise in ICBC Injury Claims – the ‘thin-skull’ principle vs. the ‘crumbling skull’ principle.  He summarized these as follows:

[54]            The defendant does not go so far as to deny that the accident caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries.  The concern is as to the extent.  The issue is whether this is a “thin skull” or a “crumbling skull” situation.  Both address the circumstances of a pre-existing condition and its effect upon the accident victim.  The law is that the defendant need not compensate the plaintiff for any debilitating effects of a pre-existing condition if the plaintiff would have experienced them regardless of the accident: Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458 at para. 35, 140 D.L.R. (4th) 235.  The court requires “a measurable risk” or “a real or substantial possibility and not speculation” that the pre-existing condition would have manifested in the future regardless of the plaintiff’s negligence.  The measurable risk need not be proven on a balance of probabilities, but given weight according to the probability of its occurrence: Athey v. Leonati, at para. 27.

[55]            The injury is deemed “thin skull” when there is a pre-existing condition that is not active or symptomatic at the time of the accident, and that is unlikely to become active but for the accident.  If the injury is proven to be of a thin skull nature, then the defendant is liable for all the plaintiff’s injuries resulting from the accident. 

[56]            A “crumbling skull” injury is also one where there is a pre-existing condition, but one which is active or likely to become active regardless of the accident.  If the injury is proven to be of a crumbling skull nature, then the plaintiff is liable only to the extent that the accident caused an aggravation to the pre-existing condition.

$60,000 Pain and Suffering for Chronic Soft Tissue Injuries

Reasons for judgment were released today awarding a Plaintiff just over $73,000 in total damages as a result of injuries and loss sustained in a 2005 BC vehicle collision.
The Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended.  The collision was significant with enough force to brake the seat assembly in her vehicle.  She was 59 years old at the time of impact. The Plaintiff suffered injuries to her neck, shoulder, wrists, knee and elbow. Most of her injuries healed in short order.  The Plaintiff’s neck and shoulder injuries did not and she testified that those areas were painful everyday  some 3 years after the collision.
The Plaintiff’s injuries and their effect are summarized well at paragraph 14 of the judgment which I reproduce below:
[14]            The main complaints of the plaintiff are that she has suffered significant, ongoing, chronic and permanent left neck and shoulder pain, and continuing anxiety, all caused by the motor vehicle accident.  She has kept working throughout, for the most part.  She has continued to work long hours, and at the same time has, on the advice of her doctor, tried a number of different kinds of therapy.  She has gone for two different kinds of physiotherapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, and has sought the services of a kinesiologist, a certified personal trainer.  She also went once for counselling to a psychologist with regard to her anxiety.  She applies ice and heat to alleviate her pain, and uses medications, with apparently limited results.
The Plaintiff called her husband to give ‘before and after’ evidence along with her treating chiropractor and family physician.  The defence called no evidence which is somewhat unusual in a contested injury claim.  In most ICBC injury claims that proceed to trial the court hears from both Plaintiff and Defence expert medical witnesses who provide opinion evidence as to the extent of injury and its relationship to the trauma in question.  It appears here that the defence was content to simply rely on their cross examination of the Plaintiff’s physicians.
The court found that the Plaintiff and her husband were ‘extremely credible’.   The court accepted that the Plaintiff’s ongoing complaints were caused by the collision.  In justifying an award of $60,000 for pain and suffering Madam Justice Morrison made the following comments:
[58]            In my view, there has been a significant loss of enjoyment of life for this plaintiff.  She suffers the pain and discomfort that she has described while working, and particularly while sitting at a computer, which involves much of her day.  She will continue to work.  Perhaps even more significantly, she has and will continue to suffer the loss of enjoyment of life that has occurred in her life beyond work.  There has been a significant and negative change in the lifestyle of Mrs. Larlee, ranging from her day-to-day household activities, her passion for gardening, her lifelong involvement with the piano and the accordion, and an active lifestyle which involved vacations and other activities.  Her pain is chronic and ongoing.

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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