On March 21, 2010, the plaintiff, John Chernet accidentally crashed his vehicle into the rear-end of a car driven by the defendant, Galites Gounell Zamora. Typically, in a rear-end vehicle collision, the driver who rear-ended another vehicle is held responsible for the accident and liable for any resulting injuries. However, in this case, the rear driver (Mr. Chernet) sued Mrs. Zamora, along with her husband who was the owner of the car and a passenger at the time of the accident. The plaintiff claimed to have suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of the accident and was seeking damages in the amount of $1.5 million. In response, in Chernet v Galaites, 2016, the defendants sought a summary judgement to have the action dismissed on the grounds that the accident was the plaintiff’s fault. The summary judgement would also decide whether or not a trial was necessary.
In regard to the issue of whether or not there are sufficient grounds for a trial, the judge referenced the decision in Hryniak v. Mauldin, which set a standard for reaching a decision in a summary judgement, to help guide his decision. The key elements of the Hryniak judgement include: 1) a judge should first determine if there is even a genuine issue requiring a trial based on the evidence; and 2) a trial is deemed unnecessary if the summary judgement process provides enough evidence for a judge to justly and fairly resolve the case. With these factors in mind and considering the evidence of the case, the judge ruled that a trial was unnecessary and dismissed the plaintiff’s action against the defendants.
The following factors guided the judge’s decision. The judge ruled that based on the physical evidence, the accident was a straight forward rear-end collision. This conclusion was based on a number of circumstances, including:
- The damage was to the centre of the back of the defendant’s car.
- There were no tire marks, which would suggest that the plaintiff had to take a sharp and sudden stop.
- There was no physical evidence that the car being driven by the defendant swerved or suddenly turned into the path of the plaintiff’s car, which would require him to stop quickly.
Another significant factor affecting the judge’s decision was the plaintiff’s inconsistency in his account of the circumstances of the accident, which contrasted significantly with the defendant’s testimony. The defendant, along with her husband, never wavered in her account of what happened on the day of the collision. She insisted that she never changed lanes and that as she approached the intersection, the traffic light was red. At that point, according to the defendant, she came to a gradual stop behind another vehicle, to wait for the light to turn green. As the light turned green and she was waiting for the car ahead of her to drive off, her vehicle was suddenly struck from behind.
In contrast, the plaintiff changed his story multiple times. On the day of the accident, the plaintiff told the officer at the scene that the defendant’s car stopped suddenly and for no reason, making it impossible for him to stop in time and avoid crashing into the defendant’s vehicle. By the time of discovery, the plaintiff’s account changed and he claimed that there was no car in front of him and also, he did not even realize at first that he was in an accident. However, in his affidavit for the motion, the plaintiff insisted that he had always stated that the defendant abruptly stopped in front of him.
Despite these inconsistencies in the plaintiff’s statements, the plaintiff’s lawyer argued that a trial was necessary due to the defendant’s unreliability. In a critique of the defendant’s driving ability, the plaintiff pointed out that the defendant admitted she did not drive often and that, in fact, her husband typically drove when they were travelling together. The plaintiff stated that on the day of the accident, she had missed her original exit and ignored her husband’s suggestion to turn left, instead choosing to continue right. Also, at the time of the accident the defendant had a two-month-old baby at home. This, the plaintiff’s counsel argued, all combined to make it likely that at the time of the accident the defendant was a sleep-deprived mother who rarely drove, missed her exit and panicked.
However, the judge rejected the plaintiff’s claims about the defendant’s reliability, instead maintaining that all the physical evidence, combined with the plaintiff’s inconsistent testimony, support a finding of fault on the part of the plaintiff. As a result, he dismissed the action against the defendants. The judge also noted that the plaintiff counsel’s characterization of the defendant at the time of the accident was a misplaced effort to find an issue that would require a trial. He added that it actually denies the impact of rule and guidance provided by the ruling in Hryniak v. Mauldin, noting that to accept plaintiff counsel’s reasoning, would mean that any view provided by a party opposing summary judgement, even one based merely on speculation without substantive demonstration in the actual evidence, would be enough to establish an issue requiring a trial.
Justice Lederer’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s action against the defendants also meant that any liability on the part of the plaintiff’s insurer, RBC, was also dismissed. Mr. Chernet’s insurer, RBC General Insurance Company, was included as a defendant in this action against Mr. Chernet, as the insurer did not agree with the amount of damages he claimed under the “uninsured/underinsured” motorist provision of his policy. This provision provides security to a policyholder in the event they are struck by someone who is either uninsured or underinsured, in that their own insurer will cover the outstanding costs. In this case, the defendants were underinsured by $500,000 with respect to the damages demanded, as their policy was worth $1 million. Because Mr. Chernet was claiming damages totaling $1.5 million (including $500,000 for pain and suffering), he wanted to employ the uninsured/underinsured clause in his policy which had an available limit of $2 million.
Being the victim of a car accident often takes an immense physical and emotional toll on an individual. The financial outlay can be astronomical. The costs of rehabilitation and attendant care, the cost of replacing a vehicle, the loss of income when you are unable to work, in addition to various other expenses can continue to add up, which only adds to one’s stress during this difficult time. The uncertainty of filing a claim against a negligent party can also be a source of worry as most accident victims have little or no experience with the claims process.
At Rastin & Associates, we understand the gravity and unfairness of having suffered injuries that were caused by a careless or negligent party, and our staff is dedicated to obtaining full compensation for all losses incurred by our clients as a result of their injury. Call us today for a free no-obligation consultation which will allow you to make a measured decision on how to best proceed.