Focus On

Tort Law - Practice and procedure - Grounds for appeal - Verdict unreasonable - Answers not supported by evidence - Verdict not sound in law

Thursday, December 01, 2016 @ 7:00 PM  


Appeal by the plaintiffs, Hamilton and his spouse, from a jury verdict in their personal injury action against the defendants, Bluewater Recycling Association (BRA) and Bonnett. The plaintiff’s motorcycle collided with a truck owned and operated by the defendants on a foggy morning in 2010. Both vehicles drove east as the sun rose. Witnesses provided conflicting testimony on visibility and the extent of the fog. Bonnett testified that he signaled to turn left and steered to circumvent a van stopped facing southbound. Hamilton pulled out to pass Bonnett’s truck when the truck turned left in front of him, rendering the collision unavoidable. Hamilton was rendered paraplegic as a result of the accident. The parties agreed that his damages totaled $8 million. A jury found the plaintiff 100 per cent responsible for his injuries. The jury stated that a reasonably prudent motorist would not have made the decision to overtake the truck, and should have had sufficient control to navigate an unexpected scenario and come to a complete stop if required. The trial judge granted judgment in accordance with the jury’s verdict. The plaintiffs appealed on the basis the verdict was unreasonable given incontrovertible evidence of Bonnett’s negligence.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The trial judge instructed the jury on the heavy onus on Bonnett regarding his left turn, and on Hamilton when overtaking and passing. It was open to the jury to find either that Bonnett was not negligent or that his negligence was not a proximate cause of the accident. The jury’s answers indicated that they considered that Hamilton was the sole author of his own misfortune in making the decision to pass in all of the circumstances. It could not be said that no jury, reviewing the evidence as a whole and acting judicially, could have reached the decision that this jury did. The trial judge did not err by permitting expert witnesses to opine on causation in a manner unrelated to their expertise. No such objection was made by the plaintiffs’ counsel at trial. The reasons provided by the jury for its verdict were directly responsive to the defence theory and did not demonstrate fundamental error or unreasonableness, or otherwise undermine its ultimate conclusion.