Many, if not most, motor vehicle accidents are the result of simple carelessness. Drivers must always pay attention to traffic and other road conditions. Indeed, the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act expressly imposes a duty to act with “due care and attention” on the part of all drivers.
Among other things, this includes yielding the right of way when appropriate. For instance, if a vehicle approaches an intersection and intends to make a left-hand turn, the driver is required to “yield the right of way to traffic approaching from the opposite direction that is in the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard” under Section 174 of the Motor Vehicle Act.
An “immediate hazard” is basically any vehicle, pedestrian, or object that might collide with the vehicle making the turn.
Drivers who fail to properly yield may be held liable for damages caused to another driver. For example, the B.C. Supreme Court recently issued a judgment ordering a defendant to pay nearly $190,000 in damages to a plaintiff injured as the result of an intersection collision.
Here is what happened: The accident occurred in March 2013. The plaintiff was driving his vehicle, a Chevrolet Cavalier, northbound on Nelson Avenue in Burnaby. Nelson Avenue has two lanes in each direction, which approach an intersection dividing Hazel Street to the west and Sanders Street to the east.
At the same time, the defendant was driving his Dodge Caravan southbound on Nelson Avenue towards the same intersection. He intended to turn left onto Sanders Street.
The two vehicles collided in the intersection. Both vehicles sustained significant damage. The plaintiff further said he heard a “loud noise” at the moment of impact, and subsequently his ears started ringing, for which he sought medical attention the next day.
The plaintiff sued the defendant, alleging the latter’s negligence caused the accident. The defendant denied liability. At trial, the plaintiff testified that he drove through the intersection at a speed of between 40 and 50 kph when the defendant’s van suddenly “turned left in front of him” without yielding. The plaintiff said he “immediately applied his brake but was not able to avoid the collision.”
The defendant testified that he did stop “briefly” at the intersection’s stop line before starting his left turn onto Sanders Street. He said he paused once in the intersection for about 15 seconds because he saw several vehicles in the northbound lane that he assumed were turning left onto Hazel Street.
Once he believed the intersection was clear, the defendant began his own turn when the plaintiff “suddenly swerved out of the left northbound lane, accelerated to full speed into the right northbound lane, and struck [the defendant] without applying brakes.”
Justice Carla L. Forth of the B.C. Superior Court tried the case. In her judgment, issued on August 1 of this year, she said she found both parties “credible,” but the plaintiff’s account of what happened was “much more plausible.” In particular, she did not believe that plaintiff “pulled out from behind the stopped left-hand vehicle, suddenly accelerated,” and hit the defendant who was supposedly already in the intersection.
Consequently, Justice Forth determined the plaintiff was already moving northbound and executed his lane change before entering the intersection. At this point, she said the defendant “had not commenced the left-hand turn and was not a threat.” But the defendant ignored the “immediate hazard” posed by the plaintiff’s lawful presence in the intersection and started to make his own turn, thereby causing the collision.
The Court therefore determined the defendant was 100% liable for the accident.
As to the issue of damages, both sides agreed the plaintiff sustained “soft tissue injuries” and tinnitus (the ringing in his ears). Justice Forth focused most of her analysis on the tinnitus, which was likely caused by the explosion of the plaintiff’s airbag at the moment of collision and has remained constant since the accident. The plaintiff testified the tinnitus causes him anxiety, sleep disruption, and limits his ability to concentrate while working indoors.
Members of the plaintiff’s family confirmed in their own testimony that he is “more sensitive to loud noises” and generally in a much “grumpier” and “irritable” mood than before the accident. Medical experts further testified that the plaintiff’s tinnitus is “permanent” and that no known medical treatment can cure it.
The plaintiff asked for between $100,000 and $140,000 for the pain and suffering related to his tinnitus and other injuries. Justice Forth ultimately awarded a lesser amount–$85,000. She based this figure on decisions in prior B.C. accident cases, notably a 2012 Supreme Court decision where an accident victim who sustained tinnitus in both ears received $60,000 in non-pecuniary damages.
The Court also awarded damages for the plaintiff’s future loss of earning capacity. Prior to the accident, the plaintiff worked as a part-time employee for Canada Post, with the intention of seeking a full-time position. The plaintiff continues to work for Canada Post and is currently at the top of the waiting list to apply for a full-time job.
The problem, as Justice Forth explained, was that if the plaintiff “were accepted on the permanent list, he would have to return to taking a variety of routes until a permanent route became available to him.” But this may not be possible due to the plaintiff’s tinnitus. So the Court decided to award the plaintiff for this “real and substantial possibility of a loss” by awarding him two years’ income, which came out to $95,500.
Even non-life-threatening injuries like the plaintiff’s tinnitus in the case above can significantly impact your emotional and economic well-being. That is why it is important to work with an experienced Burnaby car accident lawyer to help you in holding careless drivers legally responsible for their actions.