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Breaching the Motor Vehicle Act Regulation Not Sufficient to Ground a Finding of Negligence

In Haynes v. Haynes, the British Columbia Court of Appeal has again confirmed that the breach of a statutory provision does not, on its own, prove negligence.

In this case, the plaintiff, who was the son of the defendant, was riding in the passenger seat of a large truck driven by his father. The truck was towing a flat deck trailer carrying an old Bronco. As they approached a gentle curve in the road, the defendant felt a “wobble” and then the trailer began to whip from side to side. The truck then went over an embankment and the plaintiff was injured. The plaintiff argued at the trial that the defendant had breached s. 7.07(3) of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations, B.C. Reg. 26/58, which provides:

No person shall drive or operate on a highway any combination of vehicles if any vehicle being towed whips or swerves unreasonably or otherwise fails substantially to follow the path of the towing vehicle.

The trial judge found that the plaintiff had established a prima facie case of negligence, in part based on the defendant’s breach of the Regulation, and the defendant had not provided any explanation of how the accident may have occurred without his negligence.

The Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge’s decision. In particular, the Court of Appeal was concerned that the trial judge had essentially equated a breach of the Regulation to a finding of negligence. The Court of Appeal stated that “the imposition of liability in negligence by virtue of a breach of the regulation would effectively amount to an application of strict liability” (para. 25). In other words, a breach of a regulation does not, on its own, create a presumption of negligence. In every case, the Court still needs to analyze causation to determine whether the defendant’s actions caused the accident.

Case summary provided by Karen Orr