A recent decision by the Court of Appeal for Ontario has clarified an important aspect of the law that could affect many Ontario motorists involved in car accidents. In a rear-end car accident, the court has confirmed that the onus is on the driver who has crashed his vehicle into the vehicle ahead to prove that he could not have avoided the accident by the exercise of reasonable care, even in an emergency situation.
With dark or near dark, possibly slippery and what he considered “whiteout” conditions you might be willing to consider Mr. Corbett, who slammed on the brakes soon after losing significant visibility, free of liability. The conditions were precarious enough to disorient the trial judge. The trial judge found that it was an “emergency” situation and cleared the defendant of liability. The judge was convinced that emergency situations were treated differently from inevitable accidents, and that in emergencies it was the plaintiff’s duty to prove that the defendant was negligent leading up to the accident. Determining who’s responsible for proving negligence in rear-end collisions is an important distinction to make, and it we needed the Court of Appeal for Ontario to clarify the matter.
J.A. Lauwers referred us all back to O’Brien’s 1998 standard jury instructions on rear-end collisions, specifically his concise “If you can’t see where you’re going don’t go. If the road is icy or slippery, then even more care should be taken.” It was stop-and-go traffic and he was only in first gear, but Mr. Corbett crashed nonetheless. The plaintiff and other drivers were able to navigate the conditions without incident, yet the defendant was clearly driving too fast for the conditions, which he failed to disprove. Emergency or not, the driver who crashes his vehicle into the vehicle ahead must be the one to prove that he could not have avoided the accident by exercising reasonable care.
Drive safely and according to weather and road conditions and you’ll decrease your risk, but even the best drivers get in car accidents. If you’re the victim of a rear-end collision, call Azevedo Nelson at 416-800-4378 for a free, confidential assessment of your legal case.