Taxi passenger wins $65k in B.C. personal injury case

Man calling a cab. Stock photo by Getty Images

Despite how some cabbies drive, you don’t see a lot of personal injury lawsuits from passengers. But a recent B.C. lawsuit sheds some light on negligence and blame in these so-called ‘taxidents’.

The B.C. Supreme Court case dates back to 2010 as Zi Fu Zhang caught a cab in Richmond. As the car approached a tight corner, the driver lost control and the car skidded off the road. Zhang suffered multiple injuries and sued the driver and his employer. The case raised some important negligence issues.

First off, Zhang wasn’t sure whether he was wearing his seatbelt. That’s of particular relevance since so many passengers don’t buckle up. Despite all common sense, surveys tend to show that surprisingly high numbers of passengers treat a cab like public transport and forgo seatbelts, as if a cab is magically safer than a regular car.

In a typical negligence case, the defendant can lessen their liability by claiming contributory negligence, which is basically claiming that the victim is partially to blame for their own suffering. For example, if a person is badly hurt in a car accident because they were too cool to wear a seatbelt, the defendant won’t be fully liable.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s 1994 decision in Galaske v. O’Donnell determined victims can be found anywhere from five to 25 per cent liable for skipping a seatbelt.

The cab company tried to prove some contributory negligence, but the driver couldn’t say either way if Zhang wore his seatbelt, so the judge gave Zhang the benefit of the doubt.

So who’s at fault for the accident?

The annoying thing about single-car accidents is that you can’t blame anyone else. It’s either your own fault, or there was some factor beyond your control that caused the crash. The driver went that route, claiming “inevitable accident.”

Berhane Ghebreanenya said he accelerated around a curve and felt the car slip as if he’d hit a patch of ice. He said he’d been driving 60 km/h, but was accelerating at the time so wasn’t sure of his speed when he lost control.

Losing control of a car doesn’t prove negligence on its own, but driving too fast around a tight corner does. It also doesn’t prove that an accident was “inevitable.” Mechanical failure or bad driving conditions can cause an “inevitable accident,” not speeding.

The judge found Ghebreanenya and Richmond Cabs at fault and ordered payment of $65,000 in damages, including some $13,000 for costly Chinese medicinal treatments Zhang had imported from China.

This case may make cab companies more vulnerable to future passenger-based lawsuits by lowering the effectiveness of some past legal defences. But we wouldn’t advise testing the theory by not buckling up.

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