"One of Those Rare Instances in Which the Left-Turning Servient Driver is not at Fault"

There is a mistaken belief by some that when a collision occurs at an intersection between a left turning motorist and a vehicle proceeding straight through the intersection that fault will rest with the turning vehicle.  This is often, but not always, the case.
Reasons for judgement were released today by the the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, finding a left turning vehicle faultless for such a crash due to excessive Defendant speed.
In today’s case (Theiss v. Shorter) the Plaintiff was attempting a left hand turn on an amber light when she miscalculated the on-coming Defendant’s speed and a collision occurred.  The Defendant was travelling at approximately double the posted speed limit and due to this the Court concluded fault should rest entirely with him.  In reaching this conclusion Madam Justice Baker provided the following reasons:

[45]         I found the opinions in Mr. Dinn’s report, reinforced by his response to rigorous cross-examination and some questions from the Court, to be logical, reasonable and persuasive, and the assumptions on which he based his opinions to be supported by the evidence.  I conclude that Mr. Shorter was travelling at an excessive rate of speed as he approached the intersection − probably a speed in excess of 100 kph and possibly as great as 110 kph − more than twice the posted speed limit.

[46]         Ms. Theiss commenced her left turn when the defendant’s vehicle − had it not been been travelling at an excessive speed − was sufficiently far from the intersection that it did not pose a hazard.  She could not, in my view, have anticipated that the approaching vehicle was travelling at twice the posted speed limit.  As such, and given that she was well into her turn when Mr. Shorter approached the intersection, he was obliged to yield to her.

[47]         Mr. Shorter knew, I conclude, that the light at Chancellor Avenue for traffic on Helmcken Road had been green almost from the time he entered Helmcken Road and should have anticipated that it would turn to amber or red before he reached the intersection.  He also knew that there was a southbound vehicle stopped at the intersection waiting to make a left turn.  He was aware there was no left turn light and that vehicles wishing to turn left often did so on an amber light.  Had he not been driving at an excessive rate of speed he could have stopped before entering the intersection, or had a greater opportunity to consider his options and to avoid the swerve to the right that was a contributing factor in the collision.

[48]         This is, in my view, one of those rare instances in which the left-turning servient driver is not at fault.  Ms. Theiss drove in a prudent and reasonable manner − stopping twice to check the distance from the intersection of the oncoming vehicle; and checking to ensure no pedestrians or cyclists were in the crosswalk. She was familiar with the intersection and able to make a reasonable estimate of when she could safely make it through the intersection before oncoming traffic reached the intersection.  She could not reasonably have predicted the highly excessive rate of speed at which I have concluded Mr. Shorter was travelling.

[49]         I find Mr. Shorter’s negligence in driving at an excessive rate of speed and failing to keep a proper look-out for left-turning vehicles to be the sole cause of the accident.

bc injury law, Left Hand Turning Accidents, madam justice baker, Theiss v. Shorter

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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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