Police speeding at 147 km/h mostly at fault for intersection collision
In the recent decision of Gorman v. Meghji, 2018 BCSC 1904, the Supreme Court of British Columbia apportioned fault between two drivers involved in an intersection accident. On July 22, 2014 in the early afternoon, Constable Chad Gorman, an officer with the Langley detachment of the RCMP responded to a 911 call from a man who said he was being chased by someone with a gun (the “911 Call”). A Priority 1 call is the most urgent priority call for RCMP officers. The call was in Cst. Gorman’s zone of patrol and so he responded immediately. He initiated a U-turn and began driving towards the Fraser Highway. He activated his lights and sirens; this is described as a Code 3 response. He knew that one of his fellow officers, Cst. Vetter was also responding to the 911 Call and was proceeding on the same route ahead of him. When he reached the Fraser Highway he turned left and proceeded west to reach the location of the person who had initiated the 911 Call. He accelerated his vehicle quickly and reached a speed of 147 km/h.
At the same time, Shiraz Meghji and his family had just arrived in the Langley area. Mr. Meghji was driving the family’s 2006 Chevrolet camper van (the “Meghji van”). Mr. Meghji was not familiar with the roads. He had turned south off of the Fraser Highway when he should have turned north. As Cst. Gorman was turning onto the Fraser Highway, Mr. Meghji had turned around and was facing north at the intersection of 268 Street and the Fraser Highway (the “Intersection”). He intended to cross the highway and turn left after the Intersection. Mr. Meghji drove into the Intersection and as his van crossed the westbound lane of the Fraser Highway his vehicle was struck at a high speed by Cst. Gorman’s car. Both vehicles were destroyed by the force of the collision and the Meghji van was flipped onto its side. Somewhat miraculously, no one was killed. All five people suffered injuries, but they were able to walk away from the accident. They all commenced separate actions seeking damages for personal injury. The five actions were ordered to be heard at the same time on the question of liability.
The issue decided was whether one or both of the two drivers is at fault for the accident. If both are at fault, liability must be apportioned between the two drivers. Cst. Gorman and the RCMP defendants submitted that Mr. Meghji should be found solely at fault for the accident because he breached his statutory obligation to yield the right-of-way to Cst. Gorman’s emergency vehicle travelling with lights and sirens activated. In addition, they argued that Mr. Meghji breached his statutory obligation to yield to Cst. Gorman’s vehicle, which had the right-of-way and posed an immediate hazard. Mr. Meghji argued that Cst. Gorman should be found substantially at fault for the accident because the officer acted negligently and unreasonably by travelling at an excessive speed considering the conditions on the Fraser Highway at the Intersection. It was mid-day in a busy area with homes and commercial premises and the speed limit was only 60 km/h.
Section 4 of the Emergency Vehicle Driving Regulation, B.C. Reg. 133/98 (the “Regulation”) applies to an emergency response and requires on to assess whether the risk of harm to members of the public is greater than or less than the risk if the privileges under that section were not exercised. In doing so an officer must consider the factors which include:
- the nature and circumstances of the suspected offence or incident;
- the risk of harm posed by the manner in which the emergency vehicle is being or is likely to be operated;
- the risk of harm posed by the distance, speed or length of time required or likely to be required to exercise the privileges;
- the nature, condition and use of the highway; and
- the volume and nature of pedestrian or vehicular traffic that is, or might reasonably be expected to be, in the area.
After analyzing the law, the Court had no hesitation in concluding that Cst. Gorman breached the standard of care of a reasonable police officer in travelling on the Fraser Highway at 145 km/h on a weekday afternoon through a commercial/residential zone at a speed that was close to 90 km over the speed limit. In doing so he passed through a number of intersections without slowing his car at all, let alone to a speed consistent with reasonable care. He certainly did not slow down as he approached the Intersection. He chose to travel at such a high speed because he was responding to a Priority 1 call. However, the fact that it was a very high priority emergency response situation does not give an officer the privilege of travelling at a speed that creates an unreasonable risk to the public. He is required to take into account the time of day, that nature of the surrounding neighbourhood and the possibility that vehicles or pedestrians could cross the highway. In these circumstances, Cst. Gorman failed to properly balance the utility of his conduct with the risk to public safety.
The Court found that Mr. Meghji did not breach his statutory obligation by entering the Intersection as the time to assess whether an approaching vehicle constitutes an immediate hazard is at the moment that the servient driver begins to enter the intersection. At that moment, the Gorman car was not an immediate hazard that could be perceived by a reasonable driver. However, the Court concluded that Mr. Meghji’s decision to drive through the Intersection in the manner he did was negligent. He knew that one emergency vehicle had passed at high speed. He was aware of the possibility that there could be a second emergency vehicle heading in the same direction. In spite of that, he accelerated immediately after his first assessment of the situation when he did not see any vehicle that posed an immediate hazard approaching from the east. He had five lanes to cross in a vehicle that does not accelerate quickly. In those circumstances, proceeding at a slower rate would have given him some opportunity to perceive and react to Gorman’s fast approaching vehicle. Had he done so, he may have had enough time to see the Gorman car and assess how fast it was travelling. In these circumstances, the Court concluded that Mr. Meghji must also bear some fault.
In summation, the court concluded that the majority of the fault must be apportioned to Cst. Gorman because of the degree of risk created by his breach of the standard of care of a reasonable police officer, and the extent to which his actions departed from that standard. His failure to reasonably balance the factors set out in s. 4 of the Regulation led him to drive at a speed that was excessive and inconsistent with reasonable care for the public safety. His actions created the serious risk of harm that materialized when Mr. Meghji entered the Intersection. Mr. Meghji’s departure from a reasonable standard of care was much less; he failed to proceed with sufficient care as he drove through the Intersection. The apportionment of fault was 80% for Cst. Gorman and 20% for Mr. Meghi.