Drivers’ Responsibilities: Right Of Way vs Exercising Proper Care and Safety

A decision by a trial court judge, which was upheld on appeal brought into sharp focus the fact that right of way rules do not in any way provide protection against liability for an accident.

The City of Ottawa was ordered to pay $2 million in damages in a 2008 crash that caused the death of three people. An OC Transpo bus on a green light had T-boned the SUV in which five youngsters were traveling. Though the SUV driver had been drinking heavily, driving erratically and running a red light, the judgment still held the bus driver responsible partially for not applying proper safety measures.

The Gardiner v MacDonald Case

Ben Gardiner and four of his friends had visited the Carleton University graduate students’ bar, another pub, and a karaoke bar prior to the accident. Mark MacDonald, the driver of the SUV in which they had been traveling was reported by eyewitnesses to have been driving erratically and running several red lights before the fatal collision which occurred at an intersection at 2 am.

The bus driver who had more than two decades’ experience was found to have been moderately over the speed limit, though he had right of way on green at that intersection. He was also found to have briefly checked his rear-view mirrors at the intersection (as the drivers’ manual in fact enjoins him to do) thus taking his attention away momentarily from the road.

Two of the passengers and the driver, MacDonald, were killed while two passengers survived. Gardiner and his family sued the city, the  pubs and MacDonald’s estate for compensation due to negligent driving. Another deceased victim’s family also sued.

Since toxicology reports confirmed that MacDonald had been drinking, his insurers declined coverage and had to pay only the minimum $200,000 which was split between the plaintiffs. Hence, though the municipality was apportioned only 20% of the fault in the accident, it was the City which had to pay the bulk of damages, as all other parties were unable to pay. This is due to the principle of joint and several liability contained in insurance regulations.

The bus driver and the city appealed, but their application was turned down and the trial judge’s decision was upheld.

Right of Way vs Safe and Alert Driving

In this particular case, the judgment was based on important factors that include:

  • Drivers with right of way must still exercise proper care and proceed only when it’s safe to do so
  • Professional drivers are to be held to a higher standard of care than the general public. The bus driver in question was a highly experienced driver.
  • The bus driver was driving above speed limit in poor weather and road conditions.
  • The speed rendered the bus driver unable to react quickly enough at the intersection.
  • Drivers with right of way may also be found partially responsible for accidents.

If you or a dear one has been injured, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to advise and assist you with claiming the compensation you deserve. Our knowledgeable and skilled car accident lawyers can help safeguard your rights and protect your interests.

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