The Importance of Witness Credibility in B.C. Car Accident Cases

There are some personal injury lawsuits arising from car accidents in which both sides offer extensive expert testimony to bolster their respective cases. In other cases, there is little evidence available to the court aside from the testimony of the parties themselves and any witnesses at the scene. In these situations, the trial judge is left to sort out which testimony is the most credible.

Case Study: Chima v. Kopec

Let us look at a recent decision by a B.C. Supreme Court judge for an illustration of how judges examine witness credibility in practice. This case, Chima v. Kopec, involves a fairly straightforward accident and legal issue. On August 30, 2015, the plaintiff was driving a transit bus through Surrey. His bus collided with a passenger car driven by the defendant.

The night before the accident, a powerful windstorm swept through the Lower Mainland, knocking out power to a number of traffic signals in Surrey. This included the signal at the intersection where the plaintiff and defendant collided the following morning. Under B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act, when a driver approaches an intersection “that has traffic control signals that are inoperative,” the driver “must stop before entering the intersection.”

Plaintiff alleges failure to stop at the intersection causes the car accident

In his personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant entered the intersection without stopping first, thereby causing the collision. The defendant insisted she did stop a “little bit” at the intersection, but that she did not see the plaintiff’s bus until is “just appeared” in front of her, by which point it was too late for her to stop and avoid the collision.

Neither side presented expert testimony during the two-day trial, which was held before Justice Karen Horsman of B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. In addition to the two parties, the only other witnesses were a passenger who was riding on the plaintiff’s bus and the RCMP constable who attended the accident scene.

Here is a brief summary of how each witness testified, according to Justice Horsman’s judgment:

  • The plaintiff said when he reached the intersection, he “observed that the traffic lights were out, and he slowed the bus to a stop.” He then looked left and right twice before entering the intersection, which is the procedure required by the Motor Vehicle Act. The plaintiff said he saw the defendant’s vehicle approaching “quite fast” from the right, and that she “did not stop” even though the plaintiff’s bus was already “about three quarters of the way through the intersection.” The plaintiff said he spoke to the defendant shortly after the collision, when she allegedly told him “I had a green light,” even though the signal was still not working.
  • As noted above, the defendant testified that she stopped “a little bit” at the intersection. Justice Horsman noted that the defendant could not precisely define what she meant by a “little bit.” In any event, the defendant said she “looked left and right when she stopped at the intersection and did not see [the plaintiff’s] bus.” She also recalled that following the accident, the plaintiff “yelled at her.”
  • The RCMP constable arrived at the scene shortly after the collision. He testified that he interviewed both the plaintiff and the defendant at the scene. The constable said the defendant appeared “to be confused and stated that she did not know that she had to stop at an intersection when the traffic lights were out.” In her own testimony, the defendant said she did not recall speaking with the constable at all.
  • The bus passenger said the plaintiff “entered the intersection first, but only just ahead of [the defendant’s] car.” The passenger could not recall if the plaintiff applied the bus brakes prior to the collision.

Judge: Defendant’s Account of Accident “Unbelievable”

Justice Horsman determined the plaintiff “testified in a clear and forthright manner” about the accident. She noted his “recollection of material events was consistent, detailed, and not shaken in cross-examination.” On the other hand, the judge found the defendant’s account of events “vague and implausible.” For instance, the defendant could not recall how long she stopped at the intersection. In any case, she could not have stopped for very long if she somehow “did not see a 40-foot transit bus when she looked to her left.” The judge said it was “unbelievable” that the defendant could not see the bus until it somehow “appeared in front of her at the moment of collision,” as she testified.

The judge also credited the RMCP constable’s account of his interview with the defendant at the accident scene. The fact the defendant could not recall this conversation was, the judge noted, consistent with her “own self-admitted memory gaps around the Accident.” Finally, Justice Horsman noted that the bus passenger’s testimony corroborated the plaintiff’s assertion that it was the defendant who failed to stop before entering the intersection.

The court also did not accept the defence’s view that even if she was negligent, the plaintiff was at least partially responsible for the accident. The plaintiff consistently testified that he stopped at the intersection. The judge noted plaintiff was a “professional driver who has had over two decades of experience driving a public transit bus without apparent incident.” As his bus arrived at the intersection first, the plaintiff had the right-of-way, contrary to the defendant’s assertions.

In sum, Justice Horsman found the defendant 100% responsible for the accident. The parties agreed to the amount of damages before trial, so it was not necessary for the judge to make any separate findings in that regard.

Contact the Preszler Law Firm Today if You Have Been Injured in a Surrey Motor Vehicle Accident

Even when a car accident comes down to a “he said/she said,” a B.C. judge can still find a defendant responsible based on an assessment of each litigant’s overall credibility. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Surrey personal injury lawyer when pursuing any accident-related claim. Contact the Preszler Law Firm to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team to discuss your accident and how we can best help you.

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