Many B.C. motorists have a tendency to presume they always have the right of way, especially against pedestrians or bicyclists, but that is not how the law works. In particular, bicyclists have the same right to be on the public highways as any car or truck, provided they follow the same rules of the road. This means that when there is an accident involving a motor vehicle and a bicycle, do not assume a judge will automatically find the bicyclist at fault.
Indeed, in a recent B.C. Supreme Court case, Rainey v. Fane, the judge found just the opposite. This case involves an August 2006 accident in Prince George. The plaintiff, a man now in his late 40s, woke up one morning and drove his mountain bike to a nearby laundromat.
He returned from the laundromat around 10:30 a.m. According to court records, the plaintiff decided to take a “short-cut through the lane that abutted both sides” to get back to his own house, which was on the next block. This took the plaintiff and his bike down a “gentle” descent in the road. The plaintiff testified there were “no cars parked on the lane” or other obstructions to his travel.
The defendant lived in a house along this lane. However, there was a wooden fence on the defendant’s property that “blocked the view into his driveway.” At the same time the plaintiff was making his descent, the defendant backed out of his driveway while operating his employer’s van.
The mountain bike and the van collided. The bicycle struck the rear driver’s side door of the van, breaking the window and sending the plaintiff flying backwards. The plaintiff was thrown into a fence. According to medical evidence given at trial by the plaintiff’s treating physician, the plaintiff sustained a “laceration of the right side of the neck,” another laceration to his right arm that damaged the radial nerve, and “blunt force trauma to the head and face.”
The plaintiff sued both the driver of the van and its owner–the driver’s employer–for the damages caused by the accident. The defence disputed both liability and damages. Trial was held in early 2017 and 2019 in Kamloops before Justice S. Dev Dley of B.C. Supreme Court. Justice Dley decided to try the issue of liability before considering damages.
On the question of liability, Justice Dley found the defendant driver 100% responsible for the accident. By extension, this made the employer liable, as well, since the driver operated its vehicle with permission.
As the judge explained, the defendant violated three statutory duties under the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act:
The defence argued that the plaintiff was at least partially at fault because he was driving at an unsafe or excessive speed just prior to the collision–in essence, the plaintiff “ran into” the defendants’ van. Justice Dley rejected this theory. He noted there was “no evidence” the plaintiff was “riding at an excessive speed.” Nor was he driving in an improper lane. To the contrary, he was driving as far to the right as was safe to do so under the circumstances.
In fact, the only suggestion the plaintiff did anything wrong came from an initial accident report prepared by the ambulance crew that responded at the scene. Judge Dley said this report suggested the plaintiff “had ridden his bicycle at a high rate of speed into the back of the van, catapulted through the rear window and then climbed out of the van and made his way across the alley and collapsed in tall grass.” But this was not consistent with any of the witness testimony, including that of the defendant driver.
In short, the plaintiff did nothing wrong. The defendant driver failed to keep a proper lookout for other vehicles and backed onto the road prematurely.
You may notice the unusual delay in this litigation. The accident itself occurred in 2006, and as noted above, the trial just on liability adjourned from 2017 to 2019. The main reason for this, according to Justice Dley, was the plaintiff’s decision to proceed without the assistance of a qualified personal injury lawyer.
That was not always the case. Justice Dley noted that the plaintiff was initially represented by counsel in 2008, when he filed his lawsuit. But as a result of unspecified “differences,” the plaintiff ended up replacing his initial counsel with new lawyers. After “differences” with the new lawyers, the plaintiff decided to proceed on his own.
After the trial began in 2017, Justice Dley said it was “apparent that [the plaintiff] needed legal assistance.” The court then granted a series of delays to allow the plaintiff a chance to secure new counsel. He failed to do so, and Justice Dley resumed the trial on liability alone in February 2019. Even then, the judge said he was “concerned” about the plaintiff’s competency to “conduct his case.” The judge further determined that the plaintiff was not “incapable of managing his own affairs,” so he allowed the plaintiff to proceed.
Although the plaintiff did manage to prevail on liability, it is unclear what will happen when Justice Dley considers the issue of damages. It is worth noting that the plaintiff apparently failed to introduce any evidence in support of his damages aside from the testimony of his treating physician, which probably does not bode well.
In any event, a key lesson from this case is that it is generally a bad idea to represent yourself in a personal injury case, especially when the defence contests both liability and damages. You might think you know best, but such stubbornness can lead to additional delays in deciding your case.
If you have been injured in a bicycle accident and are ready to seek out qualified legal advice from a Prince George personal injury lawyer, contact Preszler Law Firm today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.