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Ferguson v. Shan: Foggy Conditions Lead to Highway 97 Accident

Driving in hazardous conditions is a common occurrence for B.C. drivers. It is important to exercise extra caution when there is bad weather that affects visibility on public highways. Failure to do so can result in a car accident, and in turn a personal injury lawsuit.

For example, a B.C. Supreme Court judge recently held a pair of defendants liable for a December 2014 car accident brought about by foggy conditions. The defendants previously asked the judge to award summary judgment in their favour. As it turned out, the judge did exactly the reverse.

Here is some background on the accident itself. On December 7, 2014, the plaintiff in this case was driving her Kia Sorento southbound on Highway 97 (the Cariboo Highway), just north of Clinton. Big Bar Road forms Y-shaped intersection with Highway 97 from the northwest.

As the plaintiff approached this intersection, a Ford pickup truck was travelling in the opposite direction (northbound) on Highway 97, preparing to turn left onto Big Bar Road. The defendant driver made this turn in “foggy conditions.” Neither he nor the plaintiff saw the other before their vehicles collided in the intersection. More precisely, the front of the plaintiff’s Kia “hit the middle right side of the defendant’s truck” according to court records.

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Judge Determines Full Trial Unnecessary

As mentioned earlier, the defendants–the driver and the owner of the Ford truck–filed a motion for a summary determination on the plaintiff’s subsequent personal injury lawsuit. With summary determination, the trial judge considers the party’s pleadings and evidence taken at discovery. In many cases, summary determination enables the judge to quickly dispose of certain issues when a full trial is deemed unnecessary.

The plaintiff opposed summary determination. She said a full trial was still necessary as she wanted a chance to cross-examine the defendants and present additional evidence in the form of an expert accident reconstruction report. She further maintained that it would be inappropriate to separate a determination of liability from the issue of damages.

The judge, Justice G.P. Weatherill, disagreed with the plaintiff that a full trial was called for in this case. He said there was “sufficient evidence” to rule on the liability question by itself. Indeed, the judge said this case was simply one about “exercising care and diligence while driving in foggy conditions.” Under normal weather conditions, the defendants would have unquestionably been 100% responsible for the accident. But with the foggy conditions on the evening in question, there was some question as to the plaintiff’s liability, which the judge was prepared to resolve.

Defendant Failed to Act Appropriately Before Attempting Left Turn

As it turned out, the plaintiff’s opposition to summary determination proved to be moot. Justice Wetherill agreed with her that the defendants were still 100% liable for the accident, fog or no fog.

According to the evidence given by the plaintiff at discovery, she had stopped with her son at a restaurant after attending a hockey tournament in Williams Lake. After leaving the restaurant and resuming their trip southbound on Highway 97, the plaintiff started to notice foggy conditions.

The plaintiff said she reduced her driving speed in response. Normally, the speed limit on this part of Highway 97 was 100 km/hr. The plaintiff said she was only traveling between 70 and 95 km/hr due to the conditions. Even at reduced speeds, however, visibility was poor. Just before the collision with the defendant, the plaintiff said she could only see “approximately 25 feet in front of her.” As she approached the intersection with Big Bar Road, the plaintiff said the “fog became denser” just before the defendants truck “appeared right in front of her.”

In his own evidence at discovery, the defendant driver also said he “could not see more than 20 to 30 feet in front of him.” More to the point, he could not “see past the intersection into the southbound lanes of Highway 97.” He said he stopped for “several seconds” at the intersection before starting to make his left turn onto Big Bar Road. The defence argued this was “reasonable” under the circumstances, and that the plaintiff had been driving too fast to avoid the collision.

As Justice Wetherill explained, B.C. law requires a driver planning to make a left turn to “consider and determine whether there is a vehicle in any approaching lane that constitutes an immediate hazard.” It is that driver’s responsibility not to make the turn if such a hazard exists. At the same time, the oncoming driver “has a duty to drive safely within the limits of visibility and his or her ability to control the vehicle.”

That said, the judge noted that all drivers have an “ultimate duty” to “act reasonably in the circumstances.” That is to say, both drivers needed to exercise special caution when operating their vehicles in foggy conditions. The defence could not simply rely on the “existence of fog” to argue that they did not realize the “immediate hazard” posed by the plaintiff’s oncoming vehicle. As the judge saw the facts, this was “similar to a situation where a left turning driver’s view is obstructed by another vehicle or where the sun is shining into their eyes.”

Put simply, the burden was on the driver making the left turn–the defendant–to “determine whether a turn can be made safely.” The defendant failed to make that determination. He was therefore liable for the accident.

Contact Preszler Injury Lawyers Today if You Have Been Injured in a B.C. Auto Accident

The truth is, many auto accident cases are fairly simple to assess from a liability perspective. The law is generally clear as to who must yield and in what circumstances. Of course, this does not stop negligent defendants from protesting their innocence in court.

That is why it is important to work with an experienced Vancouver personal injury lawyer following any car accident. Contact Preszler Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team today.





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