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January 30, 2013

Defendant Who Crosses Centre Line Prima Facie Negligent

The Court of Appeal has set aside a jury verdict that dismissed an action against a defendant who crossed out of his lane and collided with another vehicle.

In El Dali v. Panjalingham, 2013 ONCA 24 (C.A.), the plaintiff was injured in an automobile accident when the defendant lost control of his vehicle on an icy road, crossed the centre line, slid into oncoming traffic, and hit the plaintiff's vehicle.  The plaintiff remained on his side of the road and was able to bring his vehicle to a complete stop.  The police officer who attended the scene decided not to lay charges due to weather conditions.  The defendant did not testify at trial and called no other evidence to explain his driving.

A jury found there was no negligence on the part of the defendant and dismissed the case.  The plaintiff appealed.  The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial. The defendant breached s. 148 of the Highway Traffic Act by crossing the centre line of the road and a driver who does so is prima facie negligent.  The driver then bears the onus of explaining that the accident could not have been avoided with the exercise of reasonable care.  The explanation need not come from the defendant, but must come from someone or the defendant will be held at least partially responsible.  The fact the police officer did not lay charges and that there were icy road conditions were not sufficient to support the jury's conclusion.  Defence counsel suggested a 50% apportionment in her closing, which also suggested the defendant bore some responsibility.

Those defending similar claims will have to consider the appropriate evidence to call in order to rebut the onus to explain how the accident occurred without negligence.

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