Is a Distracted Driver Always Responsible for a Car Accident?

Is a Distracted Driver Always Responsible for a Car Accident?

Distracted driving is a major cause of car accidents in B.C. In many respects, drivers distracted by their phones and other electronic devices pose an even greater risk to motorist safety than even drunk drivers. The problem is simple: If someone is looking at his or her phone to check a message, that means that person is not keeping his or her undivided attention on the road.

Keep in mind, distracted driving is a traffic violation under B.C. law. Emailing, texting, or using an electronic device while driving can result in a $368 fine and four points on your driver’s license. If you are involved in an accident, distracted driving will be considered as a potential factor in assessing your legal liability for the crash.

But distracted driving by itself is not enough to prove causation in a car accident. A B.C. court will consider the actions of all parties involved, and even if one driver committed one or more traffic infractions prior to the accident, the other driver may still be found 100% responsible.

D’Amici v. Fahy: Distracted Driving Does Not Mean Automatic Liability

The recent B.C. Supreme Court decision, D’Amici v. Fahy, considered a personal injury claim that began with a two-car accident in March 2013. The defendant was traveling north on Main Street in Vancouver toward the intersection with East 6th Avenue. Main Street has three lanes in each direction in this area. There is no traffic signal at the intersection, but there is a stop sign posted at East 6th Avenue in the eastbound direction.

This is relevant, as the plaintiff was driving his own car eastbound, intending to cross Main Street at the intersection. The plaintiff and the defendant collided in the intersection.

He Said/He Said: The Parties’ Dispute

The plaintiff alleged the defendant was responsible for the accident due to distracted driving and speeding. More specifically, the defendant admitted in court that he was speaking on his telephone using a hands-free device (which is permitted under B.C. law). The defendant also recalled his driving speed just prior to the collision was likely between 50 and 60 kilometres per hour (the posted speed limit was 50 kph).

In response, the defendant claimed the plaintiff caused the accident. The defendant testified the plaintiff had driven into the intersection and had slowed down near the double-yellow line dividing the northbound and southbound lanes of Main Street. At this point, the defendant said his own vehicle was “maybe two car lengths away” from the plaintiff’s car. Meanwhile, he observed the plaintiff looking in the opposite direction “to gesture to someone” before he “accelerated quickly.”

For his part, the defendant said he “stepped hard onto his brakes” to avoid a collision, thereby activating his vehicle’s anti-lock brake system. But “less than a second later,” the defendant’s car struck the plaintiff’s vehicle.

The plaintiff did not offer any testimony to rebut the defendant’s account of the accident. According to his lawyer, the plaintiff had “no memory of the accident.” Instead, the plaintiff presented expert testimony from an accident reconstruction specialist. The expert opined that based on a “series of assumptions” and photographic evidence, the defendant was likely travelling between 50 and 60 kph just prior to the accident–in excess of the speed limit–and that his “perception response time” was about 1.6 seconds.

This was longer than the average response time, which the expert attributed to the fact the defendant was talking on his phone. In other words, according to the expert, if the defendant had not been speeding and driving distracted, he likely would have had sufficient time to brake before hitting the plaintiff’s car.

Court: Plaintiff Responsible for Accident Notwithstanding Defendant’s Distracted Driving

Justice Ronald Skolrood of B.C. Supreme Court rendered judgment for the defendant in this case. The judge largely disregarded the expert’s findings, not because he was a poor witness, but because his report was based on “minimal physical evidence or data” and therefore “highly speculative.”

The judge did, however, credit the testimony of a third-party witness, who was also traveling on Main Street just before the accident. The witness said she saw the plaintiff’s vehicle “crossing Main Street in front of her,” prompting a number of vehicles in the southbound lane to “slam on their brakes” to avoid hitting the plaintiff. Justice Skolrood said this suggested the plaintiff effectively “forced his way across the southbound lanes of Main Street.”

The judge also noted that there was no evidence the plaintiff stopped at the stop sign on East 6th Avenue before he entered the intersection. As noted above, the plaintiff did not testify in support of his own case. The plaintiff argued there was also no evidence that he failed to stop, and that the Court should “assume that he did.” This was a non-starter with Justice Skolrood, who explained that as with all aspects of a civil case, the burden is on the plaintiff to “prove the fact,” which he did not.

Ultimately, in spite of the defendant’s apparent speeding and distracted driving, the judge determined the plaintiff was 100% at-fault for the accident. Based on the available testimony, the Court found that the plaintiff did not stop at the stop sign, did not keep a proper lookout for oncoming traffic when he entered the intersection, and failed to yield to the defendant’s vehicle.

As for the defendant’s actions, neither traveling over the posted speed limit for Main Street nor talking on a hands-free telephone prevented the defendant “from taking reasonable evasive action” to avoid a collision.

Contact a Vancouver Car Accident Lawyer Today

Car accident cases are often not open-and-shut affairs. Never assume that just because you can prove a defendant violated a traffic law or committed a negligent act that the Court will not also carefully examine your own potential liability for an accident.

This is one reason it is so important to work with a Vancouver car accident lawyer who can guide you through the legal process and zealously represent your interests in court. Call the Preszler Law Firm today 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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