Picture this: You’re a passenger in your friend’s car. The two of you are traveling below the speed limit at night in a forested area of British Columbia. Your friend is wide awake and keeping a careful lookout for signs of deer, elk, and other large woodland creatures. Yet, despite her careful driving, a buck runs in front of the car. Before she can react, her car hits the buck, and both you and she are injured in the collision.
Can you sue the driver for your injuries?
The answer to that question depends on whether your friend was negligent, or whether she can successfully assert the legal defence of inevitable accident. At the heart of British Columbia’s tort system for automobile accidents is the concept of fault. A driver at fault in causing another person’s injuries is subject to liability for those injuries.
But if an accident could not have been avoided by any reasonable steps, then British Columbia law says the driver was not at fault. In that event, the collision is called an inevitable accident, meaning that it was not caused by anyone’s negligence or error.
In British Columbia, a person injured in an automobile accident generally has two types of legal claims. First, he or she can pursue an Part 7 accident benefits in an ICBC claim if he or she has insurance. In addition, if another person was at fault in causing the accident, then he or she can assert a tort claim for personal injury against that person.
Part 7 benefits include up to $300,000 in medical and rehabilitation benefits, up to $300 per week in income-replacement benefits, and funeral expenses and death benefits. Other types of losses—particularly damages for pain and suffering—are not covered by Part 7, but are available in a tort lawsuit.
Part 7 benefits are also known as no-fault benefits, because it makes no difference who was at fault in the accident—or whether anyone at all was at fault. In other words, an injured person does not need to prove that somebody else was negligent in causing the accident to recover under Part 7. The fact that the injured person was insured is enough.
Because Part 7 benefits are available on a no-fault basis, they are available even in an inevitable accident. But, as we will see, a different rule applies in tort claims.
A successful tort claim can compensate an injured person beyond what is provided by Part 7 benefits. For example, damages for pain and suffering can be awarded in a tort lawsuit, as can damages for lost wages beyond the $300 per week available as income-replacement benefits under Part 7.
But to prevail on a tort claim and recover such damages, an injured person must prove that the person sued failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances (i.e., that he or she was negligent), and that his or her failure caused the injured person’s injuries.
Note that this means that if no one was negligent in an accident, then the injured person cannot prevail on a tort claim. That’s where the inevitable-accident defence comes in: If the defendant can prove that there were no reasonable steps he or she could have taken to avoid the accident, then he or she is not liable.
With that background in mind, what kinds of accidents might qualify as inevitable?
The scenario we asked you to envision at the beginning of this article could involve an inevitable accident. We told you to imagine that the driver wasn’t speeding, wasn’t drowsy, and was keeping a careful lookout. That won’t always be enough to establish an inevitable accident, but it’s a good candidate for the doctrine’s application.
An “act of god” could also be considered an inevitable accident. For example, a large storm causing the roadway to collapse when someone is driving over it could be considered an inevitable accident since the accident was caused by an unexpected storm and not human error.
On the other hand, if the road collapsed due to poor design or construction, then it would not be an inevitable accident; the accident would have been in part caused by human error.
Another type of inevitable accident is when the driver of a motor vehicle suffers from an unexpected health condition, leading them to lose control of their vehicle and cause an accident. For example, if someone who is otherwise in good health is driving on a highway and loses consciousness due to suffering an unexpected stroke, then any related accident could be considered an inevitable accident.
The accident would not have been caused by anyone’s negligence but simply by an unexpected health emergency. Keeping with this same example, however, if the person had been experiencing fainting spells or not addressing an underlying heart condition for some time, then the accident may not have been inevitable because the person chose to drive when it was unsafe to do so.
As can be seen from the above inevitable accident examples, whether an accident was truly inevitable depends on the specific facts of each case. So, any case where a person raises (or may raise) the defence of inevitable accident should be carefully investigated by an experienced British Columbia automobile accident lawyer.
Because of the importance of that investigation, it is equally important to preserve all evidence immediately after the accident to determine if someone may have been at fault. For help with that process and to speak with a lawyer today, call 1-800-JUSTICE or contact Preszler Law Firm online.