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Tag: Section 151 Motor Vehicle Act

Agony of Collision Doctrine Shields Driver From Fault Following Head on Crash

Update November 28, 2013 – the below decision was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgement released today
I have previously discussed the ‘agony of collision’ doctrine which can shield a motorist from liability following a collision if they are faced with a sudden and unexpected hazard not of their making.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Kamloops Registry, demonstrating this doctrine in action.
In last week’s case (Brook v. Tod Estate) the Defendant Goodrick changed lanes when it was unsafe to do so.   Her lane change resulted in a potential collision with a vehicle driven by the Defendant Tod who swerved away into the oncoming lane of traffic.  The decision proved fatal with his vehicle striking the on-coming Plaintiff’s vehicle in a head-on collision.  The Defendant Tod died in the crash and the Plaintiff sustained injuries.
The Plaintiff sued both Defendants.  The Court found the Defendant Goodrick was negligent in making an unsafe lane change.  The Defendant Tod, however, was found faultless for the “agonizing choice made…in the last two or three seconds of his life as he attempted to avoid an accident“.  Mr. Justice Affleck provided the following reasons addressing ‘agony of collision’:
[26]         Mr. Tod’s counsel  stresses the law in relation to the agony of collision which would exonerate Mr. Tod of mistakes which he made in an emergency situation. In Van Zanten v. Bruhs, 1991 CanLII 1023 (BCSC), Mr. Justice A.G. Mackinnon referred to Carswell’s Manual of Motor Vehicle Law, Volume III, 3rd edition, at page 22, where there is a discussion of agony of collision. These words are found:
In a number of cases concerning what is commonly called ‘agony of the collision,’ it has been pointed out that a driver acting in an emergency created by another vehicle or by some extraneous fact cannot be expected to exercise nice judgment and prompt decision, and mere errors of judgment in such circumstances may often be excusable … Where an emergency arises, it is not necessary for a driver to possess extraordinary skill, presence of mind, poise or self-control, and his failure to act as an ordinary person in an emergency is not held to be negligence. He is not necessarily required to adopt the most prudent course and is entitled to a reasonable time, depending on the circumstances, to exercise his judgment as to what steps should be taken to avoid a collision [citations ommitted.]
[27]         Counsel has submitted that it was Mr. Brook who faced the agony of collision and yet his evasive efforts, although fruitless, have not been characterized as negligence. On the other hand it is argued Mr. Tod had choices available to him and his circumstances cannot be properly characterized as the agony of collision. Notwithstanding the able arguments of Ms. Goodrick’s counsel, I do not agree that Mr. Tod did not face an agonizing choice with no time to make a considered decision. I have found Ms. Goodrick’s vehicle intruded into the fast lane already occupied by Mr. Tod’s vehicle. She began her lane change and simultaneously saw Mr. Tod’s vehicle overlapping hers by several feet. It was not realistic to expect Mr. Tod to make an instantaneous decision to accept a collision, no matter how minor it might in retrospect have been, with Ms. Goodrick’s vehicle. In the negligible time available to Mr. Tod, he cannot have been expected to weigh that fine calculation. It is true he could have braked. One difficulty with that proposition is that it cannot be now known if he both braked and swerved. What we do know from the evidence of Mr. Leggett is that Mr. Tod was travelling at a safe speed. He did not create the danger that caused him to react in the agony of the moment. If there had been a collision between his car and Ms. Goodrick’s car, we cannot know if one or both of those cars would have lost control leading to this accident.
[28]         Mr. Garner for the plaintiff submits Mr. Tod had a higher standard of care imposed on him because Ms. Goodrick’s car had an “N” plate on the back indicating she was a novice driver. I doubt if the presence of that letter on a car changes the standard of care of other drivers, but in any event, Mr. Tod was driving with reasonable care before he was cut off by Ms. Goodrick’s failure to see his car before beginning her lane change. It is not open to this Court to criticize the agonizing choice made by Mr. Tod in the last two or three seconds of his life as he attempted to avoid an accident which I find was caused solely by the negligence of the defendant, Ms. Goodrick.

Defendant 75% at Fault for Crash Despite Being Rear Ended

Although not common, motorists can be found partly or even wholly at fault after being involved in a rear-end collision.  Such a result was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released earlier this month by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In the recent case (Stanikzai v. Bola) the Plaintiff rear-ended the Defendant’s vehicle.  The Court was presented with competing versions of how the collision occurred but ultimately accepted the evidence of an independent witness who confirmed the Defendant “quickly” moved into the Plaintiff’s lane as we was attempting a U-turn in front the the Plaintiff’s vehicle.  In finding the Defendant 75% at fault for the resulting impact Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:

] The only independent witness called was Mr. Tiwana, a truck driver who was behind the plaintiff in the left lane. Like the plaintiff, he described the defendant’s van moving into the right lane, then quickly attempting a u-turn in front of the plaintiff’s vehicle, leaving the plaintiff no time to react. However, one significant difference between the plaintiff’s evidence and that of Mr. Tiwana is that Mr. Tiwana said he saw the left turn signal on the defendant’s vehicle before what he described as the attempted u-turn.

[7] There is no doubt that when one vehicle hits another from behind, the onus is on the driver of the rear vehicle to show that the collision was not caused by his or her fault: Barrie v Marshall, 2010 BCSC 981. A driver following other vehicles is expected to keep his vehicle under sufficient control to be able to deal with sudden stopping or slowing of the vehicle in front: Pryndik v. Manju, 2001 BCSC 502.

[8] But while liability for a rear end collision usually rests entirely with the following driver, that is not an invariable result. For example, in Saffari v Lopez, 2009 BCSC 699, both drivers were found to be equally at fault for a rear end collision. In that case, the front driver stopped or slowed suddenly, ostensibly to retrieve a fallen cigarette, but the court found that the rear driver was travelling either too fast or too close behind to stop when confronted with the hazard.

[9] The plaintiff and the defendant in this case give conflicting evidence that cannot be reconciled. In attempting to determine what happened, on the balance of probabilities, I prefer the evidence of the only independent witness, Mr. Tiwana. He describes the defendant moving suddenly into the plaintiff’s lane in circumstances where the plaintiff did not have time to stop. That is not consistent with the defendant’s evidence of the lapse of time between her lane change and the collision and I do not accept her evidence on that point. I do accept her evidence that she had no reason to be making a u-turn and was not attempting one, but I find that her turn to the left on impact likely created the mistaken impression of a u-turn.

[10] Based on Mr. Tiwana’s description of the accident, I find that the defendant, in changing lanes, failed to notice or properly assess the position of other vehicles and failed to ensure that she had sufficient room to change lanes safely. Section 151(a) of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318 reads:

151 A driver who is driving a vehicle on a laned roadway

(a) must not drive from one lane to another when a broken line only exists between the lanes, unless the driver has ascertained that movement can be made with safety and will in no way affect the travel of another vehicle,

[11] I therefore find that the accident was caused or contributed to by the negligence of the defendant. However, on the basis of Mr. Tiwana’s evidence, the plaintiff must also bear some responsibility because he failed to see the defendant’s turn signal. Although the defendant’s move was a sudden one, seeing her turn signal would likely have given the plaintiff an earlier opportunity to either apply his brakes or to at least use his horn to warn the defendant of his presence.

[12] Because it was the defendant who created the dangerous situation, I find that she must bear the greater share of blame and apportion liability 75 per cent to the defendant and 25 per cent to the plaintiff.

Motorist Cutting Vehicle Off While Parking Found Fully Liable for Crash

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dismissing a personal injury lawsuit arising from a 2008 collision which occurred in Burnaby, BC.
In this week’s case (Haughian v. Jiwa) both the Plaintiff and Defendant were travelling Eastbound on Sunset Street.  The Plaintiff was in the inside lane and the Defendant was behind in the curb lane.  Although the Court heard competing versions of how the collision occurred it was ultimately accepted that the collision occurred as the Plaintiff attempted to pull into a parking spot on the right hand side and failed to realize the Defendant was approaching.  As can be seen from the below photo the parking spots are bizarrely positioned on this stretch of road facing away from the eastbound traffic.

As the Plaintiff pulled in the Defendant’s left front corner hit the Plaintiff’s right side passenger door.  In finding the Plaintiff fully at fault and dismissing the lawsuit Mr. Justice Punnett provided the following reasons:

[83] The evidence of the defendant is that the plaintiff turned across his lane without signalling her intentions.  The plaintiff’s assertion that she first saw the defendant when he was 4 to 5 parking spaces away is consistent with the defendant’s evidence that the turn was made immediately in front of him.  The defendant states he was not speeding.  The speed limit was 50 km per hour.  The distance involved on the evidence of the plaintiff was limited.  The resulting time available to the defendant to react was also limited.  That reaction time is to be judged by the “the standards of normal persons and not by applying the standards of perfection” (Tucker at p. 554).

[84] The actions of the plaintiff would not be anticipated by a reasonable person.  Her conduct was so out of the norm that the defendant would have no reason to anticipate her attempt to park by crossing over his lane of travel.  There was no evidence that such a manoeuvre was common practice.  At best, had she signalled, the expectation of a reasonably competent driver would be that she was signalling a lane change.  As required by s. 151 of the Act, the plaintiff had the obligation to ensure that her movement towards the parking space could be completed safely and not affect the travel of the defendant driver.

[85] The plaintiff has failed to establish that the defendant had the time, distance or opportunity to react and avoid the plaintiff.  The evidence of the defendant is consistent with the physical evidence; that of the plaintiff on either of her versions is not.  As noted in Haase, any doubts are to be resolved in favour of the defendant.

[86] For these reasons I am satisfied that the necessary findings of fact can be made in this summary application and that it is not unjust to do so.  I am satisfied that the plaintiff was solely responsible for the accident and that no liability rests with the defendant.  The plaintiff’s claim is dismissed.

Motorcyclist Crossing the Centre Line Found Fully Liable for Collision

Reasons for Judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, addressing fault for a two vehicle collision involving a motorcycle and a cube van.
In last week’s case (Hale v. MacEwan) the Plaintiff motorcyclist was travelling southbound on 207th Avenue in Maple Ridge BC when he collided with the Defendant’s vehicle which was travelling in the opposite direction on the two lane street.  While the Court heard competing versions of events Mr. Justice Harvey concluded that the Plaintiff, whose blood alcohol limit was “twice the statutory level of impairment” failed to navigate the ‘hairpin turn” depicted in the below satellite image:

The Plaintiff crossed into the Defendant’s lane of travel and the collision occurred.  The Plaintiff argued that the Defendant was partially to blame for driving “too close to the centre line“.  Mr. Justice Harvey rejected this argument finding that the Defendant was appropriately in his own lane of travel.  In dismissing the claim the Court provided the following reasons:

[59] Here I am able to say with some precision where the accident occurred and the distance of the defendant’s container from the centre line. As noted, I am satisfied he was with in his lane of travel. The negligence of the plaintiff has been made out. He failed to maintain his vehicle within the travelled portion of the roadway for his direction of travel.

[60] The remaining question is this: was the defendant so close, as was the case in Watson, as to make his actions unreasonable?

[61] In concluding that he was not, I distinguish the situation from that which occurred in Watson, to the facts here. Here, the violation by the plaintiff was both unusual and unexpected.

[62] Neither driver testified to a situation which should have caused the defendant to consider that the plaintiff would fail to negotiate the corner. His speed was not an issue and he seemingly, according to all witnesses, had control of his vehicle as he entered the curve…

[67] Here, unlike in Watson, the distance between the outer edge of the van and the centre line was 20-25 cm or 9-10 inches. The front of the van, while not perfectly centered within the defendant’s lane, was set back from the centre line even further.

[68] Whatever contact occurred between the defendant’s mirror, the plaintiff, his passenger, and/or his vehicle, did not occur in the plaintiff’s lane of travel.

[69] To require the defendant to position his vehicle farther from the centre line in anticipation of the negligence of the plaintiff requires a standard of perfection, not reasonableness.

[70] In the result I am satisfied that the accident occurred wholly as a result of the plaintiff’s negligence. The action is dismissed.