As taxpaying citizens, we expect a certain duty of care from the government. Basic amenities like street lights, maintenance of roads and proper hazard signage are part of the responsibility that is owed to us by our respective municipalities.
Sometimes this issue arises in personal injury cases that originate from car accidents. Individuals may seek compensation if they believe that the accident was not their fault, but occurred directly as a result of the lack of duty of care by the government.
In the case of Fordham v. Dutton-Dunwich (Municipality), we take a look at tragic case about an s-curve, a stop sign and a sixteen year old boy.
In January of 2007, Andrew Fordham was involved in a car accident on his way to a friend’s house. While driving, he approached an intersection which had a stop sign. Seeing no vehicles approaching, he continued driving through the intersection without slowing. Just after the intersection, there was the beginning of a curve in the road which he tried to negotiate but failed to do so successfully and slammed into a concrete bridge that bordered the road. Sadly he suffered brain damage and has no recollection of the crash.
He then sued the defendant (Municipality) for the disrepair of the road, citing that there was no appropriate signage to warn drivers of the upcoming change in the road.
Expert evidence was presented by two individuals in their respective fields, and it was concluded that Fordham has driving at around eighty kilometers per hour when he passed the stop sign. There was little to no response time to navigate the change in the road at that speed. One of the experts also felt that at a speed of fifty kilometers, a driver would be reasonably able to manage the change in the road, regardless of the stop sign. Speed and the ignoring of the stop sign was a definite factor in the cause of the accident.
The initial trial judge felt that both parties (the Municipality and the driver A. Fordham) were equally at fault in the causation of the accident. She surmised that Fordham’s irresponsible decision to ignore the proper procedure at a stop sign and the Municipality’s failure to place proper road signage (a checkerboard warning sign) to alert drivers to the change in the road were the direct causes of the accident. She also noted that it was the customary practise of “rural motorists” to go through stop signs if they deemed it safe to do so, so additional visual measures would need to be taken in order to warn drivers of any upcoming road divergences.
An appeal was filed by the Municipality, as they did not agree that there was any fault on their part in the accident. They believed that the judge erred in her decision when dual responsibility was awarded in the matter.
When the appeals judge re-evaluated the initial ruling, it was found that the decision could not be upheld because the trial judge did indeed make an error in the assessment of fault against the municipality.
Canadian Law has a strategic system when evaluating a case of causation against a municipality. Two of the important requirements are that firstly, a plaintiff must prove that there was a failure to keep the roads in a reasonable state of repair and secondly, that this “non-repair” was what caused the accident.
The trial judge felt that there should have been signage alerting drivers of a “hidden hazard” to reasonable drivers (as per the reasonable driver standard) but in the appeal, the judge saw that this standard was not upheld because the driver in question was not behaving in a “reasonable manner” when he ignored a stop sign at eighty miles an hour. A previous expert witness had concluded that at even at a speed of fifty miles an hour, one could successfully navigate the S-turn. Also, there was no “hidden hazard” because the stop sign, if adhered to, acts as a cautionary stopping and slowing measure to drivers approaching the change in road pattern.
The initial ruling also seemed to differentiate between two categories of drivers; “rural drivers” and other drivers. This categorization was deemed unfounded and unnecessarily biased when determining the etiquette connected to stop signs. The law concerning stop signs is absolute and not changed to fit a specific type of driver.
The appeal was granted in favor of the Municipality and the necessary costs were assigned.
The trial process can be a long and difficult one. Be confident in knowing that you are properly represented by hiring a personal injury lawyer from the renowned firm of Rastin & Associates. We are fully staffed and experienced in handling claims of this nature and await your call for a free initial consultation.