U-Turning Defendant 100% Liable For Accident

Defendant failed to prove that any negligent act or omission of the plaintiff contributed to the u-turn collision

Be careful when you make a u-turn. That is the message of the recent personal injury case HOUGH V. WYATT, 2010 BCSC 1375 which was a trial held on liability only.

The defendant was driving with his friend southbound on 168th Street in Surrey and just as they passed through the 80th Avenue intersection, the pair noted a vehicle they were interested in looking at on the opposite side of the street. At that point on 168th, there was one lane for southbound travel and one for northbound travel. In them middle was a meridian delineated by solid yellow lines. To the right of the southbound lane was a bus stop – an area designated for transit to pick up and drop-off. The defendant pulled off into the bus area and left the motor running, with the intent of making a u-turn across the southbound lane and into the northbound lane to have a look at the vehicle.

The plaintiff was also heading southbound on 168th Street. He testified noticing the defendant’s vehicle parked on the right side of the road, but did not see any tail or signal lights illuminated. The plaintiff gave evidence that all of the sudden the stationary vehicle pulled out and crossed the southbound lane in front of his car. The collision was unavoidable as the plaintiff’s front collided with the rear driver’s side wheel of the defendant in the southbound lane.

The defendant argued that the plaintiff was negligent in driving at an excessive rate of speed and that it was his speed that caused or contributed to the accident, not the u-turn. His argument was supported by an independent witness who was heading northbound on the street. She testified that she spoke to the plaintiff at the scene, and that he told her he was late for a job interview after she commented on his speed.

The court had some strong words for the defence regarding this important alleged statement against the plaintiff’s interest in the case. Defence counsel was chastised for not putting the statement to the plaintiff on cross-examination, or even suggesting he had spoken with the witness at the scene. As a result, the plaintiff’s testimony that he was heading to a job as an industrial safety officer went unchallenged. In addition, when the independent witness on direct, said the plaintiff was speeding she was not asked to explain the basis of her perception, or to provide an estimate of the speed of the vehicle.

In determining that liability rested solely with the defendant, the court held that the defendant had attempted a dangerous and illegal maneuver and that he had failed to keep a proper watch for traffic while doing so. In addition, he failed to prove that any negligent act or omission of the plaintiff contributed to the collision. The plaintiff should not have been expected to anticipate the illegal u-turn. The evidence of the independent witness that the plaintiff was speeding was insufficient to establish contributory negligence.

The result of this case is not overly surprising; however, the comments of the judge respecting the lack of questioning of the evidence of the independent witness leaves one to think that if defence had pursued the plaintiff’s own admission of being in a hurry a little further, there may have been some contributory negligence apportioned.

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