Court of Appeal finds truck driver not responsible for single-vehicle crash, says “no negligence” proven

In reasons for judgment released last Friday, the Court of Appeal in Haynes v. Haynes, 2017 BCCA 131, overturned a trial judges finding of negligence in a single-vehicle crash.  In Haynes, the defendant lost control of his truck after it started to wobble on the highway, with it ultimately crashing and injuring his son (who was riding as a passenger).  The court said:

[1]             On a sunny afternoon in September 2012, the defendant and plaintiff (who are father and son respectively) set off in a truck towing a flat-deck trailer from Rayleigh (near Kamloops) south along the Yellowhead Highway towards a scrapyard on the Tk’emlups Indian Reserve. On the trailer they had loaded an old Bronco (from which the wheels and tires had been removed) that was strapped into place, and an old engine block placed in the cargo box of the Bronco.

[2]             The defendant drove. He is a retired city worker who had driven trucks and other equipment in the course of his employment. He holds a Class 1 driver’s license and was age 71 at the time of trial. The plaintiff, a passenger in the truck, is a professional truck driver who drives tractor-trailers as part of his employment. Both had driven the Yellowhead Highway many times. On this day, the highway surface was dry and smooth. The posted speed limit was 100 km/h.

[3]             After entering the highway, the men travelled about six to eight kilometres, in the curb lane, without incident. They reached a gentle curve to the right. The defendant testified that he felt a “wobble” and then the trailer began to “whip from side to side”. The trial judge recounted his testimony:

The truck and trailer left the travelled portion of the highway striking an asphalt barrier along the far right boundary of the highway which was the limit of the shoulder of the highway. The defendant testified that prior to the trailer whipping from side to side, he felt a gentle wobble. The defendant stated that it was the trailer that started to sway and that the whipping motion transmitted this motion to the truck. The defendant testified that the whipping motion moved both the truck and trailer at the same time. This whipping motion caused the truck and trailer to:

…[nose] off into the other lane, and I didn’t want that to happen, so I pulled it -- turned it back into the -- my lane, I guess you’d call it, the curb lane and then the next thing I know “phewt” over we go.

The defendant testified that when he first felt the motion of the trailer on the highway, the truck and trailer were in the right-hand curve on the highway. In describing the action of the truck and trailer, the defendant testified that there was oncoming traffic travelling in the opposite direction, but the truck did not go into the oncoming lane. The defendant did concede that the nose of the truck could have travelled into the fast lane as it was pointed in that direction. However, he steered the truck back into his lane.

The defendant testified that he moved back into the slow lane by turning the steering wheel, managing to straighten out the truck and trailer, but that he still felt the wobble. He testified that either the truck or trailer hit the curb and then it went over the embankment.

The defendant testified that at some point in time, he slowly applied his brakes. He was not sure if it slowed things down, but the trailer was still whipping. He was of the view that their application had no effect. The defendant did not know how fast he was travelling when he went off the road as he testified that he was not looking at the speedometer.

The defendant estimated that he had travelled a maximum of 200 yards from the time he first experienced the swaying until the truck and trailer left the road. [At paras. 20–4; emphasis added.]

[27]         In the result, I conclude with respect that the trial judge erred in fact in proceeding on the basis that the defendant did not testify that he had slowed his vehicle when it began to wobble; and in failing to engage in a proper analysis of causation. Nor did she explain how the speed of the defendant’s vehicle or how his failing to check his side mirrors caused or contributed to the mishap. Further, if an inference arose on the facts of this case that the defendant was driving too fast in all the circumstances, the judge was clearly wrong in rejecting the possibility that the mishap may have been the result of the flat tire on the trailer. She also erred in law in proceeding on the basis that the defendant violated s. 7.07(3) of the regulation and was therefore negligent as a matter of law.

The full decision can be found here:  http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/ca/17/01/2017BCCA0131.htm