Watch Out for the Moose, Eh! Failure To Warn Leads to Liability

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Prince George Registry, addressing the duties of a motorist after colliding with an animal.
In today’s case (Ziemver v. Wheeler) a motorist struck a moose on the Alaska Highway.  It was “fully dark” at the time.  The moose lay dead or wounded when a subsequent motorist travelling in the same direction struck the animal, lost control and collided with an oncoming vehicle.
Multiple lawsuits were commenced.  The Court found that, given visibility issues, none of the motorists were responsible for striking the moose.  However, the first motorist was found liable for the subsequent collisions for failing to warn other motorists about the injured or dead moose in the roadway.  In reaching this conclusion Madam Justice Watchuk provided the following reasons:
[154]     A driver who has collided with wildlife must take reasonable steps to preclude the possibility of another vehicle colliding with that wildlife.  The actions which will constitute reasonable steps will vary depending on the circumstances.  The time available to the driver who has collided with the wildlife is an important factor to consider in assessing reasonableness. ..
[180]     Warning other motorists of the hazard that he had good reason to believe was lying on the road was a duty.  The duty arose at the time that he hit the moose.  Not utilising the available 9 minutes to fulfill that duty was a breach of his duty.  That breach caused the collisions between Mr. Walter and the moose and the Walter-Ziemer vehicles. ..

[187]     Mr. Wheeler failed to take any reasonable or entirely possible steps over the period of approximately 9 minutes before the third collision.  He did not return to the scene until a minimum of 21 minutes had passed.  I find that in these circumstances, his failure to take any steps to warn other motorists of the hazard posed by the moose carcass fell below the standard of care.

[188]     I further find that but for Mr. Wheeler’s failure to warn other motorists, the Walter-Ziemer collision would not have occurred or would have been likely to result in significantly decreased injury. 

[189]     This is not a case like Fajardo, in which the collision would have occurred even if the defendant driver had taken reasonable steps to warn other motorists (at para. 40).  Unlike in Fajardo, the hazard in this case did not take up the entire highway lane.  Further, because the weather was clear and Mr. Walter and Mr. Ziemer could see each other approaching, it is unlikely that they would have collided if they had taken evasive action to avoid the moose, which also distinguishes this collision from the accident in Fajardo. 

[190]     Most importantly, I find that both Mr. Ziemer and Mr. Walter would have been likely to avoid or lessen the impact of the collision if they had been warned that there was an approaching hazard.  I accept Mr. Walter’s evidence that he would have slowed if he had seen flashing lights which he would have understood as a warning.  I also find that Mr. Ziemer was an attentive driver and that he would have been likely to respond to a warning signal from Mr. Wheeler.  Both of these findings are supported by the persuasive expert evidence of Dr. Droll which indicated the ways in reasonable drivers could be assisted by roadside warnings of an upcoming hazard. 

[191]     In conclusion, I find that Mr. Wheeler breached his duty to warn other motorists of the hazard posed by the moose carcass, and that this caused the Walter-Ziemer collision. 

accidents with animals, bc injury law, collision with moose, failure to warn, Madam Justice Watchuk, Ziemer v. Weeler

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

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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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