Rear End Collisions and Liability: Who is at fault?

The Supreme Court of British Columbia recently revisited liability in rear end collisions. In Gibson v. Matthies, 2017 BCSC 839, a plaintiff was injured when he drove his motorcycle into the back of the defendant’s red truck while driving in Mission, BC. The injured driver claimed the defendant stopped without warning. The court was left to determine who was at fault for the accident.

Mr. Justice Crawford affirmed the common law with respect to rear end collisions: where a plaintiff has rear-ended someone, the onus is on them to establish that it is not their negligence that caused the accident, but the forward vehicle’s negligence. Mr. Justice Nathan Smith had previously summarised this reasoning in Cue v. Breitkreuz, 2010 BSCS 617.

“Where there has been a rear-end collision, the onus shifts to the following driver to show that he or she was not at fault: Robbie v. King, 2003 BCSC 1553 at para. 13. It is also the case that the driver of a following vehicle must allow a sufficient distance to stop safely in the event of a sudden or unanticipated stop by the vehicles ahead: Pryndik v. Manju, 2001 BCSC 502 at para. 21, aff’d 2002 BCCA 639; and Rai v. Fowler, 2007 BCSC 1678 at para. 30.”

In other words, a driver who rear-ends another driver must prove that it was the other driver at fault, and not their fault that the accident happened. Additionally, Mr. Justice Crawford affirmed the common law position that there is a heavy onus on a rear position motor vehicle to be able to stop in the distance ahead of it. After reviewing witness testimony, he found that both the plaintiff and the defendant were at fault; the defendant for stopping suddenly and the plaintiff for failing to see the truck slowing and stopping. He apportioned liability as 75% the fault of the plaintiff and 25% fault for the defendant.

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