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Cardinal v. McKay: Self-Represented Plaintiff Held Liable for Prince George Accident

Although some car accident lawsuits require detailed reconstruction through the use of expert testimony to determine who was responsible, many other cases simply come down to the conflicting testimony of the plaintiff and the defendant. It is therefore up to the trial judge to decide whose testimony is more credible, and thus who is liable for the accident itself.

The Accident

Consider this recent decision from the B.C. Supreme Court, Cardinal v. McKay. This case involves a two-car accident that took place on the morning of December 16, 2015, in Prince George. The plaintiff was driving a Ford Escape. She stopped at the intersection of 10th Avenue and Victoria Street in Prince George.

At that same time, the defendant was driving his Chevrolet Equinox northbound on Victoria Street. The two vehicles subsequently collided in the 10th Avenue intersection. Each driver blamed the other for causing the accident.

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The plaintiff’s personal injury claim alleged multiple negligent acts on the part of the defendant, including “driving without care of attention,” speeding, failing to stop at a red light, and failing to yield at an intersection. Conversely, the defendant argued it was the plaintiff who drove without demonstrating proper care and attention, failed to keep a proper lookout, and failed to obey traffic signals before attempting a left turn onto Victoria Street.

The plaintiff filed her personal injury lawsuit without the assistance of counsel. The trial judge noted this led to “some difficulties with the preparation” of pre-trial materials and motions. The defendant, who was represented by counsel, filed a motion to dismiss the case. The plaintiff, in turn, asked for summary judgment on the issue of liability for the accident.

Justice Marguerite H. Church of B.C. Supreme Court conducted a hearing on April 29 of this year and issued her judgment on May 14. Essentially, she concluded that the plaintiff was liable for the accident and granted the defence motion to dismiss. The judge’s decision was based largely on the testimony of the two parties, as well as two other eyewitnesses.

The Defendant’s Testimony

The defendant testified that on the day of the accident there was “some packed snow covering the road on Victoria Street.” The defendant said his car had appropriate brakes and winter tires and that he was traveling at approximately 50 km/hour. The defendant further maintained he had not consumed any alcohol or drugs that morning, and he was not distracted from driving (i.e., he was not talking or texting on his phone).

The defendant said there were no stop signs or traffic signals as he drove up Victoria Street towards the 10th Avenue intersection. The defendant said he was familiar with the intersection and knew “he had the right-of-way.” The defendant did not see the plaintiff’s car until the two vehicles collided in the intersection.

The Eyewitness Testimony

The first eyewitness testified via an affidavit that there was nothing unusual about the defendant’s driving just before the accident. In other words, he did not speed or make an unsafe lane change. The first eyewitness also confirmed the defendant’s testimony that there was no stop signs or traffic signals on Victoria Street.

More to the point, the first eyewitness said he saw the plaintiff “pull out quickly from the stop sign on 10th Avenue in an attempt to turn left onto Victoria Street, just before [the defendant’s] vehicle entered the intersection with 10th Avenue.” From his vantage point, the first eyewitness said there was nothing the plaintiff “could have done to avoid the Accident.” The second eyewitness provided a similar account.

The Plaintiff’s Testimony

In her examination for discovery, the plaintiff said she never saw the defendant’s vehicle prior to the collision. She said she was “sitting at the stop sign west bound on 10th Avenue.” She was “watching the traffic” in both directions “waiting for my turn to go.” She started to move “very slow” out onto Victoria Street when the accident happened.

The Judge’s Decision

Justice Church found the testimony of the defendant and the two eyewitnesses to be more credible than the plaintiff’s. More importantly, the law was on the defendant’s side in this case. As the judge explained, the defendant was considered the “dominant driver” under B.C. law. That is to say, he had the right-of-way traveling on Victoria Street where there was no stop sign or signal, whereas the plaintiff was required to yield and wait until “the intersection was clear of immediate hazards.”

In this context, the judge said, an “immediate hazard” means an “approaching car” when the conditions are such that the dominant driver would be required to “take some sudden or violent action to avoid threat of a collision if the servient driver fails to yield the right of way.”

Justice Church also discounted the plaintiff’s testimony that she continually “looked both ways” before entering the intersection. This was inconsistent with her claim she never saw the defendant’s car before the collision. Additionally, one of the eyewitnesses testified the plaintiff “was looking to her right” as she entered the intersection, while the defendant’s car approached from her left. From this the judge concluded the plaintiff “did not see and thus did not appreciate the immediate hazard of the defendant’s vehicle.” She was therefore solely responsible for the accident as a matter of law.

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As noted above, the plaintiff represented herself in this case. Justice Church commented in her judgment, “It was apparent from her submissions that the Accident had a significant impact on [the plaintiff] and she has found it difficult and, at times, overwhelming to navigate through this legal proceeding.”

Of course, hiring a Prince George personal injury lawyer is no guarantee of success at trial. But a lawyer can guide you through the legal process so that you are not overwhelmed–and that you are able to present your strongest possible case to the judge.

If you have been injured in a B.C. auto accident and need legal advice on what steps to take next, contact Preszler Injury Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation.



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