Tag: Timing a Green Light

Driver Found 10% At Fault for Timing a Green Light


As previously discussed, having the right of way does not automatically result in a driver being found faultless for a collision.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.
In this week’s case (Matheson v. Fichten) the Plaintiff was a passenger in a Northbound vehicle in a designated left hand turn lane.  The advance green arrow ran its course resulting in a green light for North and south bound traffic.  The driver proceeded with his turn despite no longer having the advance green arrow.
At the same time the Defendant was driving Southbound in the curb lane.  He was several car lengths back from the intersection when his light turned green.  Other Southbound vehicles began to accelerate but then stopped realizing the Plaintiff vehicle was turning.  The Defendant did not stop and entered the intersection when the collision occurred.
Despite having the right of way the Southbound Defendant was found 10% at fault for the collision.  In coming to this assessment Madam Justice Smith provided the following reasons for judgement:
[57] I find that the Bahniwal vehicle was travelling at the speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour, or perhaps a bit less, as it proceeded up the southbound curb lane.  I accept Mr. Kaler’s evidence that Mr. Bahniwal had slowed when the light ahead was red, but then resumed speed after the light turned green, two to three car lengths from the intersection.  I find that the presence of vehicles in the two lanes to his left obscured Mr. Bahniwal’s view of what was occurring in the intersection except for the portion immediately in front of him.  The vehicles in the two lanes to Mr. Bahniwal’s left began to move forward, but they stopped almost immediately.  Mr. Bahniwal overtook those vehicles and passed them on the right, entering the intersection on a green light but without noting that the vehicles to his left had stopped, or taking any particular precaution before entering the intersection…

[61] I have found as fact that Mr. Bahniwal proceeded through the intersection on a green light.  Accordingly, he had the right of way.  His was the dominant vehicle; Mr. Fichten’s vehicle was in the servient position.

[62] The question in the end is whether either Mr. Fichten or Mr. Bahniwal  or both, was in breach of the duty of care he owed to the plaintiff.  I take into account the Motor Vehicle Act provisions as informing the requisite standard of care (Ryan v. Victoria, [1999] 1 S.C.R. 201 at para. 29).

[63] It is clear that Mr. Fichten was negligent in making his left turn when it was unsafe to do so after the light had changed, and in particular by crossing the curb lane of southbound traffic without checking that it was free of oncoming vehicles.

[64] Turning to Mr. Bahniwal, what is the duty of a driver who enters an intersection in the circumstances that faced him?  He was in the curb lane, his view of the intersection was blocked by other vehicles, and those vehicles, having entered the intersection, had subsequently stopped…

[78] In my opinion, when the light facing Mr. Bahniwal turned green and the vehicles on his left proceeded forward and then stopped, Mr. Bahniwal had the opportunity to recognize, and should have recognized, that something had caused them to stop.  His approach into the intersection should then have been tempered with caution, even though he had the light in his favour and had built up some momentum.  He did not take that approach but, instead, proceeded at the speed limit into the intersection.  His vehicle was in the dominant position, but he was not entitled to overlook a clear indication of a possible hazard in the fact that the vehicles to his left had stopped very soon after having begun to move.  The traffic was not backed up in the southbound lanes, as it was inRobinson v. Wong, and the timing of the vehicles stopping was inexplicable from his vantage point.  A careful driver would have reacted to the possibility that a left-turning vehicle, a pedestrian, or some other hazard was still in the intersection.

[79] I find that Mr. Bahniwal was in breach of his duty of care, and allocate liability 10% to him and 90% to Mr. Fichten.

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.

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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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