Judge Finds Driver Who Failed to Slow Down for Amber Light to Blame for Collision with Left-Turning Vehicle in ICBC Case

In the recently published case of Henry v. Bennett, 2011 BCSC 1254, Madam Justice Ballance found the plaintiff solely at fault for a motor vehicle accident that occurred at the intersection of King George Boulevard and 68th avenue in Surrey, BC.  At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was 20 years old. He was driving southbound on King George and intended to proceed straight through the controlled intersection to White Rock.  The defendant was driving a Honda Civic northbound along King George intending to turn left at the intersection and then continue west on 68th Avenue.

While the defendant waited at the intersection a southbound SUV stopped across from her on King George and partially obstructed her view of the flow of southbound traffic in the through lanes.  The defendant waited as the light turned amber and then began her left turn.  When she moved into the intersection the front driver’s side of her car collided with the driver’s door area of the plaintiff’s vehicle, tearing off the front bumper from the defendant’s car. The plaintiff’s vehicle then skidded towards the southwest corner of the intersection, where it struck a light standard and came to rest.At trial the plaintiff argued that his vehicle was an “immediate hazard” to the defendant and that she should not have made her left turn in the circumstances.
Considering the facts of the case, including the testimony of various witnesses to the accident.  The judge summed up the critical facts as follows:
[47]       Travelling at the posted speed limit, Mr. Henry saw his green light turn to amber when he was a distance of not less than 100 feet from the start of the intersection. More or less contemporaneously, he turned his attention to the goings-on in the intersection and saw Ms. Bennett’s stopped vehicle intending to turn left. With the mindset that he had the right-of-way, Mr. Henry decided to keep going and to proceed straight through the intersection, making no attempt to brake or slow down.[48]        I find that by the time Mr. Henry reached the near side of the intersection the light was an extremely stale amber, about to turn red, and that it changed to red as his vehicle passed into the intersection. After the light governing traffic on King George had turned red and the left turn arrow for eastbound traffic on 68th Avenue began to blink green, Ms. Bennett started into her left turn and the collision ensued.
Turning to the law, the judge said the following:
[60]        The duty placed on a left turning driver pursuant to s. 174 [Motor Vehicle Act] is not absolute. It is well-established that drivers are entitled to rely on the assumption that other drivers will obey the rules of the road, unless there is reason to know otherwise…The Court of Appeal in particular has acknowledged the realistic exigencies involved in making what are usually split-second decisions by drivers in circumstances where traffic factors have to be assessed quickly. The standard of perfection on the part of a left turning driver is not expected, and such drivers will not necessarily be faulted if they fail to precisely gauge the distance and speed of oncoming traffic…It is also settled law that the mere presence of a left turning vehicle does not raise a presumption that something unexpected might happen and cast a duty on the dominant driver to take extra care…
[73]         I endorse the case authorities that cast doubt over the legitimacy of portraying a driver in Mr. Henry’s shoes as having the presumptive right-of-way or otherwise qualifying as the dominant driver for the purposes of assessing liability using the Walker paradigm…The dominant/servient driver analysis in Walker is predicated on the footing that the dominant driver has proceeded lawfully and, it seems to me, is of utility in that circumstance only. I, therefore, question whether that framework is of any assistance to a driver like Mr. Henry, who has acted in breach of his statutory duty. In any case, it cannot be said that Ms. Bennett attempted to execute her turn in complete disregard of her statutory duty to yield, which is an integral component of the Walker analysis. Indeed, it is my view that Ms. Bennett can be validly characterized as the dominant driver in the circumstances. There is no cogent evidence to remotely suggest that she could have avoided Mr. Henry by the exercise of reasonable care. To formulate it in the terms of s. 174, Ms. Bennett posed an immediate hazard to Mr. Henry, which he should have appreciated, and it is he who ought to have yielded the right-of-way.[74]        Based on the foregoing, I am satisfied that the accident was caused solely by the negligent driving of Mr. Henry. As he is entirely at fault for the accident, his claim is dismissed.
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