Under the normal rules of the road, speeding and running a red light are the type of reckless acts that would make you liable for a car accident. There is a critical exception for emergency vehicles such as ambulances. Under B.C. law, the driver of an emergency vehicle may “exceed the speed limit” and “proceed past a red traffic control signal or stop sign without stopping,” among other things. However, the driver must still “drive with due regard for safety,” taking into account all of the relevant circumstances, including the amount of traffic on the road and the nature of the emergency to which the vehicle is responding.
On the flip side, when an emergency vehicle is in active use–i.e., it is flashing its lights and giving an audible signal–other motorists are legally required to yield the right-of-way. A motorist who fails to do so may be held 100% responsible for any collision with the ambulance, even if the motorist feels he or she did nothing wrong.
This is precisely what happened in a recent B.C. case, Weatherill et al v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, decided by the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT). In May 2016, a Jeep Cherokee collided with an ambulance at an intersection in Richmond. The Jeep driver entered the intersection under a green light while traveling eastbound. At that same time, the ambulance entered the intersection under a red light while traveling northbound. The force of the collision sent the Jeep into a nearby light post, resulting in a total loss of the vehicle.
An adjuster for ICBC concluded the Jeep driver was 100% responsible for the collision, citing a motorist’s legal duty to yield the right-of-way to emergency vehicles. The adjuster said two witnesses confirmed the ambulance “had its lights and sirens on before it reached the intersection, and that it slowed before entering the intersection.” The Jeep driver acknowledged the lights of the ambulance were on, but maintained he did not hear the emergency vehicle approach the intersection, due to the fact the Jeep was sound-proofed and he was listening “loudly” to the vehicle’s radio.
The driver and the owner of the Jeep then appealed the adjuster’s decision to an ICBC arbiter. But the arbiter agreed with the adjuster that the driver was completely at-fault. The arbiter noted that under the circumstances, it “would have been reasonable” for the Jeep driver to “slow down and stop when he saw the approaching ambulance.” Given that there was no evidence the ambulance driver was negligent and the Jeep driver “did not provide a reasonable explanation for why he instead kept moving and sped up,” the adjuster’s decision was consistent with the facts and the law.
As a result of the arbiter’s decision, the Jeep owner and driver faced a $300 increase in ICBC insurance premiums and had to pay a $300 insurance deductible. The owner and driver then filed an application with the CRT, seeking a refund of these charges as well as $275 in compensation for the work the driver missed due to the accident. The applicants argued the arbiter’s decision was incorrect and that the ambulance driver should be held “at least 75% responsible for the collision.”
The Civil Resolution Tribunal is a small-claims court. That means it cannot hear disputes involving more than $5,000 in monetary damages. While the loss of the Jeep itself obviously exceeded $5,000, this particular dispute was limited to the three items listed above — the increase in insurance premiums, the deductible, and the Jeep driver’s lost wages.
Unlike civil cases tried in B.C. Supreme Court, CRT disputes are often resolved without an in-person hearing. In this case, the Tribunal Member overseeing the case, Kate Campbell, decided to “assess and weigh the documentary evidence and submissions” without a hearing.
Based on this evidence, Campbell concluded the ICBC arbiter’s decision was correct. She began by stating there was no dispute that the ambulance’s “lights and sirens were on” before it entered the intersection. Even the Jeep driver admitted this was the case. What he did claim was that could not hear the sirens. But Campbell noted this was likely due to the fact the driver had his radio on, which was “solely his fault.”
The Jeep driver also pointed to the fact that he “successfully disputed the traffic ticket he was issued” for violating B.C. law regarding yielding the right-of-way to emergency vehicles. But Campbell said the driver failed to provide any evidence in support of this claim. In any event, before the CRT the driver admitted he “noticed the ambulances’ lights and sirens just before the collision, and that he then chose to speed up rather than stop.” In effect, the Jeep driver thought that by speeding up he could “beat” the ambulance through the intersection and avoid a collision that way. Campbell said that is not permitted under B.C. law. The Jeep driver’s duty to yield the right-of-way to emergency vehicles was “not optional.”
On a final note, Campbell said that even if the ambulance driver had been at-fault, she would not have ordered ICBC to reimburse the Jeep driver for his lost wages, as he failed to provide any “evidence or particulars to support that claim.”
In most CRT cases, parties are not directly represented by lawyers. You still have the right to consult with a qualified Richmond personal injury lawyer about your case. In fact, it is always a good idea to contact a lawyer following any kind of car accident, as you may need advice regarding what evidence you need to gather or preserve, how to properly value your potential claim. A lawyer can also deal with ICBC on your behalf in filing or settling a disputed claim.