Canadian Underwriter

How liability is shared for this left-turn collision at a yellow stoplight

July 14, 2020   by Greg Meckbach

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A British Columbia motorist who was hit by an oncoming vehicle while turning left at a yellow light is 75% liable, not 100% liable as originally assessed by the insurer, the province’s Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) has ruled.

Clayton Trenaman was driving south on Yale Rd. in Chilliwack this past October when he made a left turn at Hodgins Rd. The intersection is controlled by a stoplight. Brenda Gay-Lynn Scott was driving northbound and struck the rear of Trenaman’s vehicle.

The Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) ruled Trenaman was 100% liable. Trenaman took both Scott and ICBC to the CRT. All B.C. motorists are required to buy basic auto insurance from crown corporation ICBC, but Trenaman was not insured at the time of the accident.

There was a dispute about the colour of the light at the time of the accident. Ultimately, CRT member Sherelle Goodwin ruled that Trenaman turned left on a stale yellow light.

Despite ruling that Scott was 25% liable for proceeding through on a yellow light, Goodwin ruled that Trenaman is not entitled to have Scott reimburse him $3,000 for vehicle damage. Scott did not submit an estimate or invoice as evidence.

Section 174 of B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act says that a driver turning left “must yield the right of way to through traffic that is either in the intersection or so close that it is an immediate hazard, having yielded and given a signal, the driver may turn left and the oncoming traffic must yield the right of way to the left hand turner.”

So in a case like this, the onus is on a driver making a left turn to prove that they started to turn left when it was safe to do so, Goodwin ruled in Trenaman v. ICBC.

Section 128(1)(a) of the Motor Vehicle Act says a driver “approaching an intersection and facing a yellow light must stop before entering the marked crosswalk unless they cannot stop safely.”  In this case, Scott did not prove to Goodwin that it was not safe for her to stop.

“While a left-hand turner can assume other vehicles will obey the rules of the road, they cannot rely on that blindly and fail to keep a reasonable look out,” wrote Goodwin, quoting previous decisions from the B.C. Supreme Court.

In addition to seeking $3,000 in damages from Scott, Trenaman also argued ICBC breached its duty in investigating the accident and assigning fault.

But because Trenaman was not insured at the time of the accident, he had no contractual relationship of insurance with ICBC. Therefore, ICBC had no contractual duty to Trenaman to act in good faith in investigating the accident and apportioning fault, Goodwin ruled.

ICBC had argued that Trenaman is fully responsible for the accident unless he shows evidence that Scott was negligent. ICBC said there was no proof that Scott was negligent because there was no clear evidence of the light’s colour at the time of the accident.

Goodwin did not give any weight to Scott’s statements about the accident. The CRT used adjuster’s notes as to what ICBC was told by Trenaman, Scott and a witness.

Scott initially told ICBC that she entered the intersection on a green light when Trenaman turned left in front of her, wrote Goodwin. A few days later, Scott said the light was yellow when she entered the intersection. A few weeks later, Scott said the light turned yellow as she entered the intersection, and that Trenaman turned left on a red light.

“Most of the argument in this dispute amounts to a ‘he said, she said’ scenario, with each party calling into question the credibility of the other,” wrote Goodwin.

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