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NEGLIGENCE - Apportionment of liability - Motor vehicles - Rules of the road

Thursday, January 07, 2021 @ 6:07 AM  

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Appeal by the plaintiff from trial judgment finding the appellant wholly liable for a motor vehicle accident. The collision occurred at an intersection controlled by traffic lights. There were three lanes of traffic in each direction. The appellant, travelling southbound, stopped at the intersection and commenced his turn when he considered it safe to do so. The respondent, travelling northbound, drove through the intersection, believing he had the right-of-way based on the traffic light. The appellant never saw the respondent’s vehicle. Each alleged that the other failed to keep a proper lookout. The trial judge found that northbound cars were stopping at the intersection before the appellant started his turn. The judge concluded that the appellant was negligent in failing to yield the right-of-way to the respondent, whose vehicle the judge found to have been an immediate hazard when the appellant began his turn.

HELD: Appeal allowed. Liability was apportioned equally between the parties. The judge failed to consider the implication of his finding that there were northbound cars stopped at the intersection before the appellant commenced his turn. Having the right-of-way did not insulate the respondent from an assessment of whether he exercised reasonable care in all the circumstances. The respondent was at fault for not recognizing that vehicles around him had either stopped or were slowing down, and in failing to approach the intersection with caution at a reduced speed to determine why the vehicles were slowing or stopped. This was a breach of the common law duty all drivers had to operate their vehicles with the care and attention required in all the circumstances. It did not matter why the cars had stopped. What was important was that the respondent did not slow down to determine for himself why the flow of traffic had slowed. Had he done so, it was more likely that he would have seen the appellant’s vehicle and been able to take evasive action earlier. The failure of the trial judge to consider the implications of his findings concerning the stopped cars for the assessment of the respondent’s compliance with his common law obligations of care was an error of law.

Coffey v. Sabbaghan, [2020] B.C.J. No. 1937, British Columbia Court of Appeal, M.E. Saunders, G. Dickson and J.J.L. Hunter JJ.A., November 27, 2020. Digest No. TLD-January42021008