As we all know here in Canada, we are sometimes prone to severe winter conditions which can be quite tasking on drivers. Slower speeds and snow tires are just a few of the added precautions that many take in order to be safer on the road. However, accidents still occur and liability still has to be assessed and assigned.
The court case of (Iannarella v. Corbett, 2015 ONCA 110) addresses such an incident and the evidentiary battle that followed.
In the early evening hours of February 2008, Mr. Corbett was driving a concrete mixer truck in a low gear in stop and go traffic. The winter weather conditions were not favorable and drivers were traveling at a reduced speed because of this. As he was about to change gears to speed up a bit, there was a gust of snow which diminished Mr. Corbett’s visibility to nothing. After hesitating for second, his reaction was to slam on the brakes in an effort to stop his vehicle. The vehicle however did not stop immediately and slid right into the rear of a pickup truck being driven by a Mr. Iannarella, who alleges serious and continuous injury as a result.
The initial trial judge in this case felt that liability had not been proven; that Mr. Corbett was not negligent in his actions at the time of the accident. He felt that the defendant did all that was required of him under the circumstances and did not exacerbate the issues surrounding the accident in any way.
Mr. Iannarella asserts that the trial judge did not properly instruct the jury on the procedures surrounding the Onus of Proof as it pertains to rear-end accidents.
The instruction from O’Brien’s Jury Charges summarizes that the two main issues to be addressed when assessing the burden of proof in rear end collusion is:
- Whether or not the driver was visually sensitive to the situation (was able to see any upcoming hazards)
- Whether or not he was keeping the appropriate speed that the weather conditions dictated. If there is no obvious reason for the collision, the onus is on the driver of the offending vehicle to prove that he was sufficiently prudent in his efforts to avoid the rear-end collision.
There are certain factors to be taken into consideration when driving in inclement weather.
- A driver should remain at a safe distance when driving behind another vehicle; allowing for enough stopping distance if necessary.
- A driver should be more alert and vigilant for any hazards (other vehicles or any other obstruction)
In assessing the case, the trial judge felt that while the onus remains on the defendant to prove the inevitability of the accident and the unavoidable aftermath, the plaintiff still bears the burden of proving that the circumstances immediately preceding the accident were negligent. The judge instructed the jury on more than one occasion that in their deliberations, they should take into consideration that the plaintiff needed to prove that he was injured and that his injuries were a direct result of the negligence of the offender.
The appellate judge felt that the trial judge erred in his interpretation and instruction of the law to the jury. The law simply reads that the driver responsible for a rear-end collision has to prove that he was not negligent in the actions that caused the accident. The plaintiff’s responsibility is only to prove that the accident happened and inform of any injuries that resulted from the accident.
He further believes that contrary to the trial judge’s ruling, Mr. Corbett was negligent in his actions. While he did not create the circumstances that caused the sudden application of his braking system, he was responsible for the speed and hesitation he used at the time of the accident. Mr. Iannarella (the victim) and other drivers were all able to stop their vehicles without incident during the whiteout, and it is therefore reasonable to infer that the same could have been done by the defendant, especially in the inclement weather that surrounded the incident (as you would already be driving at a significantly reduced speed).
In another matter pertaining to the case, the admission and use of surveillance tape to refute the extent of the plaintiff’s alleged injuries came under further scrutiny. The plaintiff felt that the existence and use of the tape was highly prejudicial. The tape was not listed in any affidavit documents, it was not made available in a pre-trial request disclosure attempt and the jury was not properly instructed on how to digest and understand the nature of the pictures in relation to the plaintiff’s alleged injuries.
In the re-examination of the case, the presiding appellate judge found that the trial judge did not function in a manner that was cohesive with the legal precedent that is set out for assessing such a case. The actions of the trial judge unfairly influenced and directed the jury. In addition his admittance of the surveillance evidence that was biased, inadequately presented and discovered (because it left little to no time for the plaintiff to challenge and rebut) only added to the overall misjudgment of the case.
The appellate judge therefore allowed the appeal proposed by Mr. Iannarella and ordered a new trial to discern liability.
Cases may be settled out of court, decided in court, or re-evaluated and changed upon appeal. Whatever the circumstance in your personal injury, you should contact a the lawyers at Rastin & Associates to allow yourself a fighting chance at receiving rightful compensation. Our goal is to efficiently and empathetically guide you through the legal process surrounding your case. Call us today for a free initial consultation.