If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident and are seeking compensation from the ‘at fault’ driver, and the driver denies responsibility for causing the accident, an essential element in your successful claim involves proving, on a balance of probabilities, that the defendant was negligent in causing your injuries. In many civil actions, the at fault driver is charged with a traffic violation and doesn’t dispute their liability for the accident, which means that you won’t need to establish negligence in court. And, what remains in such cases, is for the opposing parties to agree on the appropriate amount of damages based on your losses, and claims can typically be resolved through negotiation or mediation.
In cases where the defendant in a car accident action denies that they were negligent, a judge will assess the circumstances of the accident and the evidence presented by both sides, and determine whether one or more parties are liable or contributorily liable, which is what occurred in a recent Hamilton car accident lawsuit.
Background and Findings in Smith v. Safranyos
Smith v. Safranyos (2018) is a civil action that resulted after a terrible Hamilton car accident that resulted in serious injuries for a woman and four children. The crash occurred at the intersection of Green Mountain Road and Upper Centennial Parkway when the driver of the car carrying the children, Ms. Safranyos, failed to yield to traffic at Upper Centennial Parkway and was T-boned by a car driven by Mr. McHugh. Green Mountain Road is the only street with a stop sign at this intersection.
The family of the injured children brought a lawsuit on their behalf against Ms. Safranyos, the City of Hamilton and Mr. McHugh. The case went to trial to determine who was at fault in causing the accident, and the claim asserted negligence on the part of all defendants. In addition to the allegations against Ms. Safranyos for failing to yield, there was evidence that Mr. McHugh had consumed alcohol and was driving at least 15 km/hr over the posted speed limit, and it was alleged that the design and condition of the intersection maintained by the municipality was a causal factor in the accident.
In the original trial to determine liability, the trial judge found Ms. Safranyos 50 percent liable, and Mr. McHugh and the City of Hamilton were each found 25 percent liable for the accident. Ms. Safranyos did not appeal the decision. In the current action, the City of Hamilton and Mr. McHugh appealed the liability findings against them.
On appeal, Justice Paciocco allowed Mr. McHugh’s appeal and determined that the trial judge made errors in finding that Mr. McHugh’s actions contributed to the accident, with respect to both his speed and alcohol consumption. The trial judge relied on non-specific testimony on the number of milliseconds of delay in reaction time that is caused by alcohol and extrapolated that evidence to explain why Mr. McHugh likely reacted too late and failed to avoid the collision. Justice Paciocco stated that the trial judge’s conclusion on the effect of Mr. McHugh’s alleged impairment was a substantial error and was based on a “grossly inaccurate image of the impact that alcohol has on reaction time and therefore distance travelled, which was crucial to the outcome of the trial”.
On the question of whether Mr. McHugh’s speed contributed to the accident, Justice Paciocco similarly found that the trial judge’s analysis was flawed because she made only a superficial analysis of the movement of the Safranyos vehicle and failed to properly assess how the collision actually happened. Ms. Safranyos testified that she stopped at the stop sign ten meters before the intersection and looked to her left only once before advancing, although she saw vehicle headlights at some distance from her left. Ms. Safranyos also testified that she was initially going to turn left but due to heavy traffic, decided to turn right; however, another driver who witnessed the crash testified that she was actually turning left on impact. The witness also stated that Ms. Safranyos’ vehicle did not come to a full stop at all, but rather, she accelerated quickly as soon as the vehicle in front of her advanced into the intersection.
Further, Justice Paciocco pointed out that Mr. McHugh arrived at the intersection at almost the same time as Ms. Safranyos and the crash occurred when Ms. Safranyos had driven only four meters into the intersection. This fact indicates that Mr. McHugh had very little time to react and it’s unrealistic to think that he could have taken any actions to avoid the crash, based on the conduct expected of an ordinary and prudent driver. Justice Paciocco concluded that there was no evidence, on a balance of probabilities, that Mr. McHugh could have avoided the accident even if he was driving prudently.
On the other hand, Justice Paciocco dismissed the City of Hamilton’s appeal and found that the intersection where the accident occurred was in a state of non-repair, as defined under the Municipal Act. Justice Paciocco found no grounds to overturn the trial judge’s finding that the lack of painted stop line, combined with sightline challenges at the intersection, was inappropriate and failed to meet the standard of a reasonable state of repair. Sightline was compromised for drivers due to elevation changes between Upper Centennial Parkway and Green Mountain Road, as well as a guardrail on Upper Centennial that partly obstructed the view for drivers at the intersection. And, the trial judge found no reason to doubt Ms. Safranyos’s testimony that she would have stopped at a stop line if there had been one, and when she stopped at the stop sign, she only saw a light that seemed a great distance away. Justice Paciocco noted that the trial judge “had ample evidence that this intersection was confusing, even to drivers of ordinary care”, and there was no reason to overturn the finding of liability on the part of the municipality.
Justice Paciocco allowed Mr. McHugh’s appeal, dismissed the claims and crossclaims against Mr. McHugh, and did not order a new trial. The judge concluded that the collision was caused by Ms. Safranyo’s failure to stop before entering the intersection as well as her failure to observe Mr. McHugh’s vehicle approaching and yield to his right of way. And, the City of Hamilton’s non-repair also contributed to the collision.
If you were hurt in any type of motor vehicle accident, get advice from an experienced Hamilton car accident lawyer at Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan. We invite you to meet with us for a no-obligation consultation to have your questions answered and to find out whether you have good grounds to make a claim for compensation.