07 Jan Unoccupied Vehicle Rolls Downhill Causing Injury – Is Anyone Liable?

In Little v. Einarsen, 2015 BCSC 2127, the Plaintiff alleged he was injured when the Defendant’s unoccupied vehicle rolled downhill from where it was parked and hit him as he walked across a parking lot.

To start the discussion, the Court noted the basic legal principle that the Defendant is not required to compensate the injured party unless he or she is found at fault.  The injured party must prove that the accident and resulting injuries were caused by a failure of the Defendant to meet the applicable standard of care.

In this case, the Plaintiff had no direct evidence of how the accident occurred.  Thus, the Court applied the legal maxim res ipsa loquiter or “the thing speaks for itself”.

The evidence showed that the Defendant’s vehicle was a 1992 model.  She serviced it regularly and was unaware of any mechanical issues.  Repair invoices showed it had been serviced approximately two months before the collision.  She testified that she parked the vehicle and used the emergency brake at the time of the accident.  Post-injury repair invoices show the emergency brake was adjusted after the collision.

These factors suggested the accident occurred because the emergency brake was not functioning properly.  However, the relevant legal issue was whether the Defendant knew or ought to have known about a defect or inadequacy that might cause the emergency brake to fail.  Vehicle owners have a duty not to use or permit a vehicle’s use if they know or ought to have known it is defective in a manner that may cause an accident.  An owner is liable if the defect could have been detected by the exercise of ordinary care, caution, or skill.

In this case, there was no evidence the emergency brake had failed in the past or that there was any defect of which the Defendant ought to have been aware.  Because the Defendant had the vehicle inspected approximately two months before the collision, she had done was what reasonable.  There was also no evidence that the mechanics failed to notice or repair a problem at the pre-accident inspection or that the Defendant had any reason to believe they had.  Overall, there was no evidence of any problems with the emergency brake between the date of the inspection and the accident.

To conclude, the Court found that the Plaintiff was unable to prove that the Defendant failed to take reasonable steps to detect the defect in the emergency brake.  The Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s case and did not award him damages.

This case shows that personal injury claims involve complex legal principles and evidentiary issues, and that each case is fact specific.  At Acheson Whitley Sweeney Foley, we have the expertise to help you with your complex case.