Judge orders Trial to determine Liability for Multi-Car Collision that causes Chronic Pain

Posted by Injury Lawyers of Ontario on October 02, 2019

 

A recent lawsuit arising from a multi-car rear-end collision highlights the fact that even car accidents that involve no apparent vehicle damage or personal injury can later evolve into significant legal issues for the parties involved in the accident.  For some injuries, including neck, back and soft-tissue injuries, accident victims may not feel symptoms or realize they have suffered a long-term injury until days after an accident. For this reason, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and report the accident to police or at least, at a collision report centre, and further, take photos of your vehicle or of damage to either vehicle, in the event that you need to substantiate your version of the event.  And, if there’s any indication that you might be injured, seek treatment from a doctor as soon as possible to avoid potential worsening of your condition.

Marshall v. Heatherington (2018) is a civil action that arose after the ‘front’ driver in a three-car rear-end collision suffered a chronic pain injury and subsequently sued the other two drivers for damages. In Marshall, one of the defendant drivers in the action brought a summary judgement motion to have the claims from the other drivers dismissed against him because he believed he played no part in causing the collision.  However, the judge found, because all three drivers gave different versions describing the crash and there was insufficient evidence presented to resolve the case fairly, the summary judgement motion was dismissed.  This meant that the case would need to be resolved in a trial and the allegedly ‘innocent’ party would remain a defendant in the lawsuit.

Background

The car accident that initiated this lawsuit was a rear-end collision on Highway 410 involving three vehicles. Immediately after the accident, the three involved parties believed that the rear-most vehicle driven by Mr. Hetherington was not at fault.  Further, Mr. Hetherington’s vehicle showed no damage.  For these reasons, Mr. Hetherington left the scene, while the two other drivers exchanged contact information.

None of the drivers felt injured or sought medical attention at the time of the accident. However, some hours later, Mr. Marshall, the driver of the first car, began to suffer pain and had to leave work, and he ultimately never returned to work due to a chronic pain injury.  Mr. Marshall (the plaintiff) subsequently brought a civil action against the other two drivers to compensate him for losses arising from his injury.

Mr. Hetherington testified that he was driving a company van within the speed limit, and braked when he saw cars ahead abruptly come to a halt on the highway.  He then saw Mr. Craig’s car, which was ahead of his own, hit the plaintiff’s vehicle.  Mr. Hetherington came to a halt and wasn’t sure whether he touched Mr. Craig’s car at all or if so, only slightly, since there was no damage either to the front metal bumper of his van or the rear plastic bumper of Mr. Craig’s vehicle. Since there was no sign that the vehicles struck one another, Mr. Hetherington did not make a Collision Report; however, he did report the event to his employer and stated, in the report, that he ‘tapped’ the bumper of the car in front of him.

Mr. Craig’s version of the events is that he saw the vehicles ahead come to stop but didn’t strike the Marshall car until his vehicle was struck from behind by Mr. Heatherington’s van and propelled into Mr. Marshall’s Nissan. And, this is essentially what he wrote in his Self-Reporting Collision Report. Mr. Craig also reported that there was no damage to the van or his car, and no visible damage to the Nissan.

The plaintiff testified that when he saw the cars ahead abruptly stop, he braked and came to a stop. He further stated, when he saw Mr. Craig’s car coming towards him at a fast speed, in his rear-view mirror, he braced himself for the crash. Then, when he exited his vehicle, he observed the other two drivers conversing, and went to exchange information with Mr. Craig.  And, at the time, he didn’t believe he was injured.  

The position of Mr. Heatherington is that the claims against him and his employer should be dismissed since he did not cause or contribute to the accident or the injuries sustained by Mr. Marshall.  Mr. Craig, the ‘middle driver’, stated that the case cannot be appropriately resolved in summary judgement but if it is, then the judgement should be that the plaintiff’s claim against both defendant drivers should be dismissed.  Lastly, Mr. Marshall took the position that he was not opposed to dismissing Mr. Craig’s crossclaim against Mr. Heatherington provided that the Court finds one of the parties liable for the collision and his injury.

Analysis and Findings

A bio-engineer, Mr. Young, who specializes in ascertaining how car accidents can cause personal injuries, examined the evidence presented by the three drivers and concluded that Mr. Heatherington’s van was not involved in an accident or only had a negligible contribution. Key to his conclusion is the fact that the van’s front bumper was made of steel and Mr. Craig’s bumper was plastic, and yet there was no damage to either bumpers.

Mr. Young’s evidence was presented only in the form of an affidavit and he did not testify in person.  This meant that there was no opportunity for the opposing parties to cross-examine him.  As a result, the judge stated that he could give no weight to the expert report.

Summary judgement is a more expedient and less expensive way to resolve a civil action than a normal trial. However, a Court can grant a summary judgement only if the Court is satisfied that there was sufficient evidence presented to fairly decide the case and there is no genuine issue requiring a trial.

In the current case, there were substantial questions with regards to the credibility and reliability of the three different versions of the accident.  The judge found that, in the absence of other compelling evidence, the three accounts presented insufficient evidence to conclude that there was no negligence on the part of either of the defendants or to decide the case fairly.  Further, the judge asserted that a trial is necessary “to end the coyness and tactical maneuvering” of Mr. Marshall who did not oppose Mr. Heatherington being removed from the lawsuit as long as Mr. Craig was found liable, and of Mr. Craig who stated that Mr. Heatherington could be removed from the lawsuit if Mr. Marshall entirely dismissed his action against him.

If you were seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident, including a pedestrian accident or cycling accident, talk to a knowledgeable Mississauga car accident lawyer. In a non-obligation consultation, we can answer your legal questions and provide an honest assessment on the strength of your claim.  If you choose to make a claim, you will need to file within two years of the date of your injury.


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