Generally speaking, when a person suffers personal injury or property damage due to an accident involving at least one motor vehicle, the injured party brings a civil claim of personal injury against the party responsible for the accident to recover damages for the injuries suffered. These same rules apply whether the accident that causes the injury involves a bicyclist, motorcyclist or driver of anything considered a “motor vehicle,” as that term is defined under British Columbia’s Motor Vehicle Act. Recourse will also be had to the Motor Vehicle Act to determine who is at fault for the accident. An assessment of liability comprises the first analysis undertaken by the courts before determining the extent of injury suffered and assigning a financial penalty commensurate with such damage.

One Bicyclist and Two Motor Vehicles are Involved in an Accident

A Supreme Court of British Columbia decision involved an accident on October 27, 2017, on South West Marine Drive in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Defendant suddenly stopped her vehicle in active traffic, and the Plaintiff’s bicycle collided with the rear of a motor vehicle driven by Defendant. The Defendant claimed that her stop was necessitated by the driver of a third, unidentified vehicle, who performed an unexpected U-turn directly in front of the Defendant’s vehicle and then left the scene. 

The Defendant and the “John Doe” driver of the third vehicle (which allegedly caused the accident) were named as defendants in the plaintiff’s claim for compensation for injuries he sustained in the accident.

Assessment of Reliability and Credibility of Witness Testimony

As is commonly the case when assessing liability for an accident, the court relied heavily upon the testimony of the parties involved to discern what happened and subsequently apportion liability between responsible parties. The parties in this case included the Plaintiff, the bicycle rider involved in the accident; the Defendant, the driver of the identified vehicle involved in the accident; and the front-seat passenger in Defendant’s vehicle at the time of the accident. Each testified about what they saw, heard, and experienced when the accident occurred. 

The court noted at the outset that, when considering witness testimony, the credibility and reliability of the person testifying must be considered to determine how much of the testimony can be believed by the court. Importantly, “credibility and reliability are related but distinct concepts. Reliability involves the accuracy of the testimony of the witness. It considers the witness’ ability to observe, recall and recount the events in issue accurately. Credibility involves the honesty of the witness. It engages an assessment of the trustworthiness of a witness’s evidence, based on their voracity and sincerity and the accuracy of the evidence provided”. While a witness who lies is considered to have provided unreliable evidence, the reverse is not always true, i.e., a credible witness may give unreliable evidence because circumstances may arise in which a person honestly provides their testimony to the best of their ability but is mistaken in their recollection (thus, credible, but not reliable). 

In this case, the court’s assessment of the witness testimony led it to conclude that the Plaintiff presented as a “well-prepared, thorough and honest witness” who had excellent recall of the events of the day and whose testimony was internally consistent. The court concluded that the Plaintiff “was, overall, a very balanced witness,” and it accepted “his evidence, in its entirety.” While the court also found the defendant and the passenger to be honest witnesses, it found certain aspects of their testimony unreliable. As a result, the court accepted the Plaintiff’s evidence in its entirety; it accepted aspects of the Defendant’s and passengers’ evidence, “but where their evidence conflicts with one another, I accept the passenger’s evidence as the more reliable of the two. Where either of their evidence conflicts with that of the Plaintiff, I prefer and accept the evidence of the Plaintiff”. 

Legal Principles Applicable to Assessment of Negligence in Motor Vehicle Accidents

In assessing a claim of negligence, the court will require the victim to prove the following:

  1. that the defendant owed the victim a duty of care
  2. that the defendant’s behaviour breached the duty of care
  3. that the victim suffered injury/damage
  4. that the damage/injury was caused by the defendant’s breach

Drivers of motor vehicles are bound to conduct themselves in such a manner as not to cause unnecessary risk of harm to any other party; any driver who fails to “exercise the reasonable care, reasonable skill or reasonable self-possession that are required in the circumstances, whether they are in emergency or ordinary circumstances,” will be at fault for all consequences that arise as a result. “Conduct is negligent if it creates an objectively unreasonable risk of harm. In determining whether a person’s conduct creates an objectively unreasonable risk of harm, the court must assess whether or not that person has exercised the standard of care that would be expected of an ordinary, reasonable and prudent person in the same circumstances”.

Furthermore, BC’s Motor Vehicle Act dictates that “all drivers have a common law duty to take reasonable care for the safety of others,” and specific provisions of that MVA prohibit specific behaviours, such as section 144, which prohibits careless driving; section 183(1), which imposes upon cyclists the same rights and duties as those imposed upon a driver of a motor vehicle; and sections 144(1)(c) and 162(1), which govern rear-end collisions such as the one that occurred in this case and dictate that “the driver of a following vehicle has a duty to drive at a distance from the vehicle in front that allows for the speed, traffic and conditions.” 

Application of the Legal Principles to This Case

Given that the Defendant had breached the MVA when performing a U-turn across a raised, concrete median on the road and did so in “circumstances that were inherently dangerous–in congested traffic in an area near the entrance of the Arthur Laing Bridge where eastbound lanes were merging,” the Defendant had behaved in a dangerous manner that “created an objectively unreasonable risk of harm to other users of the roadway and was conduct that the driver ought to have reasonably foreseen would create a substantial risk to other users of the roadway.” As such, the court was satisfied that the Defendant had breached the standard of care expected of an “ordinary, reasonable and prudent person in the same circumstances, before and after she saw the Jeep.” Moreover, the court was satisfied that the Defendant’s reaction to the actions of the Jeep was unreasonable, as the driver of the Jeep (who remained unidentified) had performed the U-turn some 200-300 metres and two lanes away from where the Defendant’s vehicle was positioned; as such, the Defendant’s lane of travel was “clear and unimpeded” and the Jeep “did not pose such an immediate and proximate hazard that the Defendant was required to bring her vehicle to an abrupt and complete halt in traffic, stopping in such a way as to partially block Lane 2 and fully block Lane 3.” Since an ordinary, reasonable, prudent driver in the same circumstances would not have created an objectively unreasonable risk of harm, and given that the court also determined that the Plaintiff had conducted himself appropriately and reasonably and bore no responsibility for the accident, the court ultimately concluded that the Plaintiff bore 0 per cent liability for the accident, while the Defendant bore 60 per cent liability and the unidentified Jeep driver, 40 per cent.

Contact Merdian Law Group for Your Personal Injury Legal Needs

If you have suffered personal injury as a result of an accident, whether it involved an ATV, a bicycle, a motorcycle, or some other kind of accident such as a dog bite or a slip and fall, then you are in need of a personal injury lawyer to handle your claim for damages. Even if the injuries are not catastrophic or life-changing, damages may still be warranted and recoverable. 

Located in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Meridian Law Group is proud to serve clients throughout the province and assist them with their personal injury, estate, family, and commercial litigation matters. Contact us online or via telephone at (604) 687-2277 to schedule a confidential consultation.