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Drivers Held 50% Liable for Collision after Left Turn on Amber Light in ICBC Injury Case

The law respecting the division of liability in instances where a collision occurs as a result of a vehicle making a left turn was considered in the recently published case of McPherson v. Lange, 2012 BCSC 36. In this case, Mr. Justice Armstrong apportioned liability 50/50 in respect of a motor vehicle accident that occurred at the intersection of Canada Way and Burris Street in Burnaby in November 2005. The decision underlines the duty on drivers to exercise caution when approaching or turning in an intersection.


Duty of Driver to Exercise Caution at Intersections


The accident occurred when the defendant attempted a left turn from Canada Way onto Burris Street as the plaintiff was approaching the intersection southbound on Canada Way. The plaintiff’s vehicle collided with the defendant’s car as it travelled through the intersection. The evidence established that the plaintiff’s vehicle entered the intersection about one second before impact and at the moment the traffic light turned from amber to red.


In his reasons, Mr. Justice Armstrong held that the defendant was not entitled to proceed without regard to the plaintiff’s presence in or near the intersection, and was at fault for failing to see the plaintiff’s vehicle when it constituted an “immediate hazard”. In coming to this conclusion he said the following:


[40] Based on Ms. Lange’s and Mr. Enns’ description of the events leading up to the accident, I have concluded that she stopped before entering the intersection, entered the intersection and stopped again. She proceeded on the amber light, and erroneoulsy believed that she had sufficient time to complete her turn without contributing to a risk of collision with the oncoming McPherson vehicle. She did not see the McPherson van before making her decision to proceed with her left turn and did not look again or see him as she started to travel through the balance of the intersection.


[41] It also appears to me that when she first saw the McPherson van some distance from the intersection, she misjudged the speed and/or distance of the vehicle. She did not express any expectation that Mr. McPherson would be able to stop or would stop before colliding with her.



[45] Section 128 of the MVA required Mr. McPherson to stop his vehicle unless the stop could not be made safely. He could not suggest or explain why he could not have stopped his vehicle safely in the time between the appearance of the amber light and the impact. He did not say he was too close to the intersection to bring his vehicle to a stop or that there were any other circumstances that would have prevented him from stopping his van. It is clear that his light was amber for 4.5 seconds and that he entered the intersection towards the end of that 4.5 second time. I conclude the McPherson vehicle had time to stop safely without entering the intersection. This is corroborated by the testimony of Mr. Melin who was in the lane to Mr. McPherson’s right. Mr. Melin said that he had ample time to stop and was surprised that Mr. McPherson sped past him after the light turned amber. I also find on the evidence that Mr. McPherson did have enough time to stop before the light turned to red, and in choosing not to do so, he created a significant danger.


[46] In my view Mr. McPherson did not drive prudently and his failure to stop his vehicle before entering the intersection was a breach of his duty to Ms. Lange. Mr. McPherson admits that his negligence contributed to the accident but he argues that Ms. Lange is also contributorily negligent.



[51] This is not a case where Ms. Lange had mistakenly assumed that Mr. McPherson was intending to stop before starting her turn. She did not know where he was positioned when she started her turn and before the light had turned red. He was quite obviously not stopping when she made her decision to turn…


[52] Given the shortcomings in the eyewitness testimony the question of apportioning liability is a difficult one. There is no evidence of the specific exercise of care taken by Ms. Lange in commencing her turn when Mr. McPherson was so close to the intersection. In the circumstances I conclude that Ms. Lange made her decision to start the turn and commenced her travel without adequately assessing the location, distance and speed of the McPherson vehicle prior to starting her left turn in front of the McPherson vehicle. He was an immediate hazard and she simply did not see him. I have concluded that if Ms. Lange had kept a proper lookout she would not have proceeded into the path of the oncoming McPherson van and the accident would have been avoided.


[54] I cannot measure the differing degrees of fault between both the plaintiff and defendant and accordingly, I apportion liability at 50% against Mr. McPherson and 50% against Ms. Lange.


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