When an emergency vehicle is involved in a collision with a civilian vehicle, sirens and lights activated, a liability argument will likely follow.
These are difficult cases.
You will often have a fact pattern of an emergency vehicle travelling with lights and sirens activated to an emergency call to assist another person in need, with the considerations of safety for the general public, other vehicles, and/or pedestrians that may come near or into the pathway of the emergency vehicle. This, no doubt, creates quite a stressful situation for the drivers of emergency vehicles.
The liability assessment is a complex assessment requiring careful review.
This recent decision involves just that. There are few reported decisions on this topic and therefore, this is a great case to use as a guide to assist with the analysis of liability. This recent decision is referenced as Gorman v. Meghji, 2018 BCSC 1904 and offers an excellent review of the law and the analysis.
The facts include a police cruiser travelling at 147 kmh to a Code 3 call (the most urgent type of 911 call) which had come in from a man in Langley that was allegedly being chased by a man with a firearm. The Plaintiff civilian was driving his 2006 Chevrolet camper van with his wife as a front passenger, his 18 year old daughter and 15 year old son both sitting in the back passenger seats. The family was on vacation travelling from Calgary and had arrived in Langley, BC. The Plaintiff vehicle had come to a stop at a stop sign and proceeded through the intersection. Unfortunately, the Plaintiff did not see the police cruiser approaching at high speed. It was too late for the Plaintiff to avoid this crash. The police cruiser sped through the stated intersection and was not able to avoid the crash. The vehicles collided. A horrific t-bone crash occurred. Miraculously there were no fatalities reported.
Following is a list of questions that were compiled through a review of the Gorman case. These questions may serve as a guide in the unfortunate event that you are assessing this type of crash for the purposes of a liability assessment. In no way is this a comprehensive list of questions, but certainly will offer a good starting point.
Who are the named Defendants when the Plaintiff is the civilian? Legal advice must always be sought to ensure the correct parties are identified.
- Constable involved in the collision;
- Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia; and
- the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General for the Province of British Columbia (referenced as the “RCMP defendants”)
These questions may be relevant in a case where the Plaintiff is a civilian driver:
- Did the Plaintiff breach his/her statutory right of way to yield to an emergency vehicle?
- Did failing to yield to the emergency vehicle pose an immediate hazard ?
- What was the speed of the emergency vehicle;
- Were the sirens and lights of the emergency vehicle activated?
- Is the officer’s conduct negligent in light of the circumstances, eg: location of impact, time of day, busy location, residential neighbourhood, homes, pedestrians and review the posted speed limit for the location;
- If speed is involved, was the speed excessive? And if so, is it unreasonable to be travelling at this speed in light of the circumstances noted in e.?
- If the vehicles had air bags, consider reviewing the Airbag Control Modules to assess important data such as speed, acceleration and deceleration of a vehicle shortly before the impact;
- You will also require expert witnesses to present this data and information;
- Seek details of the 911 Call;
- Scene diagram will be helpful to the Court (how many lanes of traffic, meridian, pedestrian controlled intersection, stop signs, flashing light, direction of traffic lanes – clear description of scene is necessary;
- Trace the emergency vehicles path of travel prior to the impact (eg: when did the 911 call come in, when were sirens and lights activated, etc.);
- An Agreed Statement of Facts is very helpful for the Court in these liability cases and it is recommended that all parties work together to establish the agreed facts to minimize court time and increase efficiency;
- Establish the time in which the impact occurred;
- Road conditions and weather conditions on the day in question should be included in your Agreed Statement of Facts if possible;
Evidence: Driver of emergency vehicle
The relevant evidence that you may wish to seek from the Constable / Officer / Paramedic / Firefighter driving the emergency vehicle:
- How long has the driver been employed with their employer;
- Did the driver take any driver training courses?
- Did the driver take any driver training courses involved high speed and evasive manoeuvres;
- Did the driver study emergency vehicle operation (“EVO”);
- Did the driver study how to make decisions about an appropriate emergency response?
- Does the driver agree that the primary objective of any intervention is public safety?
- Does the driver agree that the primary objective of any intervention is that the risks of injury, fatality and property damage must be taken into account.
- Did the driver receive a professional passing grade on all of the driver training courses.
- What is the difference between a pursuit and an emergency response (“ER”);
- What was the driver’s assessment of risk management?
- Were emergency equipment activated (such as lights or sirens or both)?
- Have the driver explain the 3 levels of priority? Priority 3 is no immediate risk of harm; Priority 2 involves some degree of risk of harm; and Priority 1 involves immediate risk to public safety (usually requiring emergency equipment to be activated.)
- Who determines the priority of the call (the dispatcher);
- Was the urgency of the situation considered?
- What was the distance to travel?
- What route was taken based on traffic conditions and the surrounding circumstances;
- The assessment must involve both public safety v. the safety of the person making the emergency call.
- Did the driver’s assessment of public safety change during the route travelled prior to the crash?
- Has the driver been involved in other ERs involving similar circumstances as the existing case?
- What time did the driver start his/her shift?
- Describe the details of how the driver’s day began.
- What was the driver doing just prior to receiving the emergency call?
- Were any other drivers (emergency vehicles) dispatched to the same emergency call?
- Did the driver change the the tone of the sirens?
- Did the driver use the horn as he /she approached the intersection?
- What were the driver’s observations along the route travelled?
- How many seconds did driver stop before going through intersections?
- If another emergency vehicle was involved in the pursuit, what was the distance between the two emergency vehicles?
- Was the driver familiar with the route travelled?
- Was the driver familiar with the speed limits along the route travelled?
- Which lane was the driver in along the route travelled?
- Did the driver pass any vehicles along the route travelled?
- How far was the driver from the intersection when he/she first saw civilian vehicle (Plaintiff in this case)?
- Does this evidence provided at trial match with he evidence provided at discovery?
- At what point did the driver brake?
- Does the driver agree that drivers and pedestrians act unpredictably when they view an activated emergency vehicle?
- Is it true that drivers of emergency vehicles are taught to slow down at intersections during EVO even when they have the right of way?
- Was the driver able to see the vehicle if stopped at the intersection ?
- Was driver ever ticketed?
- Does driver have any charge on his/her driving record?
- Does the driver agree that the effectiveness of sirens diminishes as the emergency vehicle’s speed increases and also in proximity to another emergency vehicle?
We will also want to review the applicable law specifically relating to these types of collisions:
 Several provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318 (the “Act”) are relevant to the circumstances of this case. Section 119(1) defines a “through highway” as a highway with stop signs erected at its entrances. The Fraser Highway is a through highway at the Intersection because of the stop signs on 268 Street.
122 (1) Despite anything in this Part, but subject to subsections (2) and (4), a driver of an emergency vehicle may do the following:
(a) exceed the speed limit;
(b) proceed past a red traffic control signal or stop sign without stopping;
(c) disregard rules and traffic control devices governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions;
(d) stop or stand.
(2) The driver of an emergency vehicle must not exercise the privileges granted by subsection (1) except in accordance with the regulations.
(4) The driver of an emergency vehicle exercising a privilege granted by subsection (1) must drive with due regard for safety, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the following:
(a) the nature, condition and use of the highway;
(b) the amount of traffic that is on, or might reasonably be expected to be on, the highway;
(c) the nature of the use being made of the emergency vehicle at the time.
 The regulations referred to in s. 122(2) are contained in the Emergency Vehicle Driving Regulation, B.C. Reg. 133/98 (the “Regulation”). Section 4of the Regulation applies to an emergency response and requires an officer exercising privileges under s. 122 to assess whether the risk of harm to members of the public is greater than or less than the risk if the privileges under that section were not exercised. In doing so an officer must consider the factors set out in subsections (3) to (7) which include
- the nature and circumstances of the suspected offence or incident;
- the risk of harm posed by the manner in which the emergency vehicle is being or is likely to be operated;
- the risk of harm posed by the distance, speed or length of time required or likely to be required to exercise the privileges;
- the nature, condition and use of the highway; and
- the volume and nature of pedestrian or vehicular traffic that is, or might reasonably be expected to be, in the area.
 Section 6 of the Regulation states that an emergency vehicle operator exercising privileges under s. 122 of the Act must “slow that vehicle to a speed consistent with reasonable care when approaching or entering an intersection”.
 Cst. Gorman acknowledged that the Incident Management Intervention Model (“IMIM”) applies to emergency vehicle operation. The seven guiding principles of the IMIM are:
- The primary objective of any intervention is public safety.
- Police officer safety is an essential element of public safety.
- The IMIM must always be applied in the context of careful risk assessment.
- Risk assessment must take into account the likelihood and extent of fatalities, injury and damage to property.
- Risk assessment is a continuous process and risk management must evolve as situations change.
- The best strategy is to use the least intervention to manage the risk.
- Prudent intervention causes the least amount of harm or damage.
 Sections 175 of the Act, set out the obligations of the driver of a vehicle who is about enter a through highway and s. 177 of the Act sets out a driver’s obligation to yield when an emergency vehicle approaches:
175 (1) If a vehicle that is about to enter a through highway has stopped in compliance with section 186,
(a) the driver of the vehicle must yield the right of way to traffic that has entered the intersection on the through highway or is approaching so closely on it that it constitutes an immediate hazard, and
(b) having yielded, the driver may proceed with caution.
(2) If a vehicle is entering a through highway in compliance with subsection (1), traffic approaching the intersection on the highway must yield the right of way to the entering vehicle while it is proceeding into or across the highway.
177 On the immediate approach of an emergency vehicle giving an audible signal by a bell, siren or exhaust whistle, and showing a visible flashing red light, except when otherwise directed by a peace officer, a driver must yield the right of way, and immediately drive to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the nearest edge or curb of the roadway, clear of an intersection, and stop and remain in that position until the emergency vehicle has passed.
Review the case for the full details. Gorman. The Court concluded:
In summary, the accident was caused by the negligence of both Cst. Gorman and Mr. Meghji. Liability is apportioned:
- 80% to the Minister; and
- 20% to Mr. Meghji.
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