Could Judge Decide MVA Case on “Geometry Alone”?
In a recent Ontario motor vehicle accident case, the driver of the first car (the “First Driver”) was hit from behind by the driver of the second car (the “Second Driver”), who suffered injuries and sued for damages. As the court explained, this situation where a driver sues who has rear ended another driver is somewhat uncommon:
Typically, when one car hits another from behind, it is the operator of that car that bears the liability. The reason for this is obvious. It is the driver in the back that can see what is happening and who has the obligation to keep a sufficient distance between the two vehicles such that he or she can stop quickly upon being confronted with an unexpected situation or emergency. Nonetheless, in this case, it is the operator of the car in the back who sues and is the plaintiff.
The Second Driver’s claim was later dismissed on summary judgment, with the motion judge finding that he was wholly to blame for the accident. In particular, the judge rejected the Second Driver’s theory that the accident had occurred because the First Driver’s car had suddenly swerved in front of him, come to a sudden stop, and made a collision inevitable. In concluding that the First Driver could not have been at fault, the motion judge said:
Geometry alone makes this plain. For the damage to occur, as it did, it would be necessary for the [First Driver’s] vehicle to have swerved cleanly into the path of the car being driven by the [Second Driver’s] in time for it to straighten out the path it was travelling such that it was in place to be struck cleanly in the rear without any skid-marks or other sign of this kind of precipitous manoeuvre.
The Second Driver appealed, on the basis that the motion judge had failed to adequately scrutinize the evidence. He claimed that the judge had jumped to unwarranted scientific and technical conclusions in the course of determining how the accident occurred and who was at fault.
The Court of Appeal disagreed and found that the motion judge had concluded that the accident was a “straight-forward rear-end collision” after looking closely at the evidence that had been provided which was incidentally less-than-ideal. In this regard, the Court of Appeal found that despite being the one to bring the damages claim and despite bearing the onus to convince the court he was not negligent, the Second Driver had failed to give any coherent explanation of how the collision occurred. The Court also noted that the second driver had also failed to provide persuasive evidence from the passenger in the vehicle (who admitted that he did not see how the accident happened) nor from the investigating police officer. That being the case, the Court of Appeal concluded the motion judge was “simply drawing reasonable inference from the uncontested facts”, and in the Appeal Court’s view had made no errors and the Second Driver’s appeal was dismissed. See Chernet v. RBC General Insurance Company, 2017 ONCA 337 (CanLII).