Sorting out legal responsibility for a car accident is significantly more complicated when there are more than two vehicles involved. Consider a chain-reaction accident that takes place between three cars, i.e., Car A hits Car B followed by Car B hitting Car C. Which of the three drivers, if any, is liable for damages sustained by anyone involved in the accident?
A B.C. Supreme Court judge in New Westminster recently dealt with just this scenario. In Bay v. Woollard, a plaintiff sued the other two drivers in a three-car accident that took place near Vancouver International Airport in December 2013. Although the judge awarded the plaintiff some damages arising from the accident, the court also found that the plaintiff was largely responsible for the chain of events leading to his lawsuit in the first place.
Here was what was not in dispute: the plaintiff, Mr. Bay, was driving from Surrey to the airport on the morning in question to drop off his son, who was scheduled to fly to Saskatoon. After traveling along Highway 91, Mr. Bay exited the north on-ramp leading into Highway 99, which would take him to the Oak Street Bridge and eventually the airport. Shortly thereafter, there were two collisions — one between Mr. Bay’s car and a vehicle driven by the first defendant, Ms. Bradley, and a second between Ms. Bradley and the second defendant, Mr. Woollard.
Just to make things clear, Mr. Woollard was at the front of this three-car chain, Ms. Bradley was in the middle, and Mr. Bay was at the rear. What the parties disputed is which accident happened first and why. Mr. Bay maintained Ms. Bradley hit Mr. Woollard first. Conversely, Ms. Bradley claimed Mr. Bay hit her, forcing her into the collision with Mr. Woollard.
Mr. Bay’s personal injury lawsuit, which sought damages related to soft-tissue injuries he sustained in the collision with Ms. Bradley, was tried before Justice John S. Harvey of B.C. Supreme Court in April 2019. Mr. Bay alleged both Ms. Bradley and Mr. Woollard were negligent. Both defendants argued that the plaintiff’s negligence was at least a “contributing factor” in the accident.
At trial, Mr. Bay argued Mr. Woollard had missed a turn and “reversed his car” into Ms. Bradley. However, Mr. Bay did not actually witness Mr. Woollard backing up. He also “conceded he was unfamiliar with the scene of the accident,” according to Justice Harvey. Mr. Bay also did not receive medical treatment at the accident scene and proceeded to return home by bus that same morning.
For his part, Mr. Woollard testified that he was commuting to work on his normal route via Highway 91. He told the court that as he entered the exit ramp onto Highway 99, he saw flashing lights on a traffic sign indicating there was an oncoming bus. Mr. Woollard said he “slowed down” in response to the sign and saw a bus approaching “at full speed.” This led him to stop his vehicle. Ms. Bradley then rear-ended his vehicle.
As for Ms. Bradley, she told the court that she was also on her regular morning commute on the day of the accident. She also saw the flashing light sign in the bus lane. At this point, Ms. Bradley said she was “3 to 4 car lengths behind” Mr. Bradley when she was “struck from behind” by the plaintiff, Mr. Bay. It was not until after the collision with Mr. Bay that Mr. Bradley said her car struck the lead vehicle driven by Mr. Woollard.
The Court’s Decision
Justice Harvey delivered his judgment on July 3, 2019. At the outset, the judge noted Mr. Bay, who is in his 70s and suffered a stroke several years ago, was a “less than reliable” witness. This, coupled with the consistent testimony offered by the two defendants, made it difficult for him to prove liability. The judge also determined Mr. Bay failed to notice the warning lights for the oncoming bus, as both defendants did.
Critically, Justice Harvey said he believed Mr. Woollard’s testimony that he “reacted properly” in slowing to allow the oncoming bus to pass him. That was why the flashing-lights sign was there in the first place. Under the circumstances, Mr. Woollard was not negligent, given his brake lights were working at the time and provided adequate warning to the drivers behind him to slow down, as well.
As for Ms. Bradley, Justice Harvey noted she testified to taking “her foot off the accelerator” when she saw Mr. Woollard’s brake lights. But she did not actually brake. This was consistent with what Mr. Bay told the court, namely that he never saw Ms. Bradley’s brake lights. In other words, Mr. Bradley did, in fact, fail to stop and that she “came into contact with the Woollard vehicle prior to Mr. Bay striking her” a few seconds later.
But this did not mean Mr. Bay did nothing wrong. In fact, he conceded at trial that he was negligent in running into Ms. Bradley’s car. Mr. Bay testified he was “150 to 200 feet away” from Ms. Bradley when she was “completely at a stop.” He therefore had “ample time to react and stop in order to avoid colliding with the Bradley vehicle.”
Justice Harvey ultimately found Ms. Bradley was 25% liable for the collision between herself and Mr. Bay. (She was 100% liable for the collision with Mr. Woollard, the judge observed, but that was not an issue actually before the court.) The court further assessed the plaintiff’s damages at $40,000, of which Ms. Bradley is responsible for one-quarter, or $10,000.
Contact Preszler Law in B.C. Today if You Have Been Injured in a Car Accident
A car accident takes place in a split second. In the immediate aftermath, it may not even be clear to you what happened or who was responsible. That is why you should speak with an experienced Vancouver car accident lawyer who can help you review the situation and decide the best course of action. Contact Preszler Law today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our personal injury team.