Court finds prior conviction for careless driving not binding in subsequent personal injury trial

In reasons for judgment released on Tuesday, the court in Chand v. Martin, 2017 BCSC 1232, held that the plaintiff's prior conviction for driving without due care and attention was not binding in his subsequent personal injury trial.  Madam Justice Russell wrote:

[84]        On June 22, 2009, Mr. Chand pleaded guilty to a charge under s. 144 of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318 [MVA] for driving a vehicle without due care and attention. As a result, a $1,500.00 fine was imposed on him.

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[86]        The key decision regarding the effect of a guilty plea in a subsequent proceeding involving the same facts is Toronto (City) v. CUPE Local 79, 2003 SCC 63. In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada was considering whether the grievance of a dismissal following a conviction for sexual assault amounted to an abuse of process. The Court provided the following comments at paras. 51-53:

[51] Rather than focus on the motive or status of the parties, the doctrine of abuse of process concentrates on the integrity of the adjudicative process. Three preliminary observations are useful in that respect. First, there can be no assumption that relitigation will yield a more accurate result than the original proceeding. Second, if the same result is reached in the subsequent proceeding, the relitigation will prove to have been a waste of judicial resources as well as an unnecessary expense for the parties and possibly an additional hardship for some witnesses. Finally, if the result in the subsequent proceeding is different from the conclusion reached in the first on the very same issue, the inconsistency, in and of itself, will undermine the credibility of the entire judicial process, thereby diminishing its authority, its credibility and its aim of finality.

[52] In contrast, proper review by way of appeal increases confidence in the ultimate result and affirms both the authority of the process as well as the finality of the result. It is therefore apparent that from the system’s point of view, relitigation carries serious detrimental effects and should be avoided unless the circumstances dictate that relitigation is in fact necessary to enhance the credibility and the effectiveness of the adjudicative process as a whole. There may be instances where relitigation will enhance, rather than impeach, the integrity of the judicial system, for example: (1) when the first proceeding is tainted by fraud or dishonesty; (2) when fresh, new evidence, previously unavailable, conclusively impeaches the original results; or (3) when fairness dictates that the original result should not be binding in the new context. This was stated unequivocally by this Court in Danyluk, supra, at para. 80.

[53] The discretionary factors that apply to prevent the doctrine of issue estoppel from operating in an unjust or unfair way are equally available to prevent the doctrine of abuse of process from achieving a similar undesirable result. There are many circumstances in which the bar against relitigation, either through the doctrine of res judicata or that of abuse of process, would create unfairness. If, for instance, the stakes in the original proceeding were too minor to generate a full and robust response, while the subsequent stakes were considerable, fairness would dictate that the administration of justice would be better served by permitting the second proceeding to go forward than by insisting that finality should prevail. An inadequate incentive to defend, the discovery of new evidence in appropriate circumstances, or a tainted original process may all overcome the interest in maintaining the finality of the original decision (Danyluk, supra, at para. 51; Franco, supra, at para. 55).

[Emphasis added]

[87]        I find that the case at bar fits within the exception emphasized above in CUPE Local 79 at para. 53. Mr. Chand had no memory of the collision, and so he could not offer a full and robust defence. In addition, the fine was quite minor, with the stakes of this subsequent proceeding being much higher. In those circumstances, it is not surprising that Mr. Chand chose to enter a guilty plea.

[88]        Consequently, I find that in these circumstances, Mr. Chand’s guilty plea does not constitute proof in these proceedings that he was driving without due care or attention on the night in question. In keeping with the independent eyewitness testimony of Mr. Harkness and Mr. Angus, I find that Mr. Chand was not speeding or driving erratically.

The full decision can be found here:  http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/17/06/2017BCSC0660.htm