COURT CASES on SINGLE VEHICLE ACCIDENTS
In Chow-Hidasi v. Hidasi, the Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her husband, which lost control on slippery roads, and crashed into two concrete barriers. The Plaintiff sustained injuries, and consequently brought an ICBC claim for damages for pain and suffering, economic loss, and future care. The Plaintiff alleged that her husband was traveling at an excessive rate of speed, and that the tires had insufficient tread. ICBC’S lawyer argued that the Court should determine that the accident occurred due to events beyond the Defendant’s control i.e. there was a mechanical failure. The matter proceeded via a summary trial route, with the trial judge ruling that there could not be a finding of negligence against the Defendant, a ruling that was upheld by the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
 I am satisfied that the manner in which Mr. Hidasi maintained his vehicle was reasonable. I am satisfied that the brake and steering failure he experienced was unexpected and was not discoverable through the exercise of reasonable care.
 Moreover, if the defendant had simply done nothing, it is likely the vehicle would have continued to track around the gentle curve it was in and come to rest without incident. She argues that applying the emergency brake, particularly with the force that the defendant applied it, was negligent and caused the accident. Finally, she argues that Mr. Hidasi should have geared down using the automatic transmission to slow the vehicle down.
 I am not satisfied the defendant’s reaction to the circumstances he unexpectedly faced was unreasonable. First, there is no suggestion that Mr. Hidasi was in some fashion shocked into inaction and delayed responding to what he reasonably perceived as an emergency. To the contrary, all of the evidence suggests that he responded immediately. Second, it may well have been that if Mr. Hidasi was a stronger individual or simply redoubled his efforts at attempting to manually steer and manually brake the vehicle he would have been successful. I do not accept that he knew that, or should have known that. Rather, I find that he tried his level best to steer and brake. He perceived that both of these options were ineffective and he needed to adopt an alternative course and do that quickly. From his perspective he had two options: either do nothing or engage the emergency brake. Choosing the latter was not an unreasonable course of action. When it gave rise to unexpected consequences and in effect created a further danger, Mr. Hidasi responded to that. He immediately disengaged the emergency brake. By that point, however, he was unable to alter the path of travel of the vehicle and the collision occurred. It may be that the vehicle would have tracked around the curve it was on without difficulty if Mr. Hidasi had done nothing. It may also be that had he geared down using the automatic transmission he would have been able to stop the vehicle without incident. It may be that adopting either or both of those courses of action would have been better than adopting the course that Mr. Hidasi did. This issue is not whether he took the best course of action, but whether he responded reasonably, bearing in mind the tolerance the law affords to what might be described as errors in judgment committed by a driver faced with an emergency situation.
In Nason v Nunes, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld a trial judge’s ruling that the Defendant was not negligent for a single vehicle accident when he lost control of his truck during winter driving conditions. The Court discussed the issue of what inferences can be drawn from single vehicle accidents.
 Major J., speaking for the Court, began his analysis by explaining the meaning of res ipsa loquitur in Canada. He quoted with apparent approval from Sopinka, Lederman and Bryant, The Law of Evidence in Canada (1992), who wrote that the doctrine applied where a defendant had sole control of the thing (“res”) that inflicted the damage complained of, and the occurrence was such that it could not normally have happened without negligence on the part of the defendant. The authors noted that there were three alternative views as to the legal effect of res ipsa loquitur, but that:
Res ipsa loquitur, correctly understood, means that circumstantial evidence constitutes reasonable evidence of negligence. Accordingly, the plaintiff is able to overcome a motion for a non-suit and the trial judge is required to instruct the jury on the issue of negligence. The jury may, but need not, find negligence: a permissible fact inference. If, at the conclusion of the case, it would be equally reasonable to infer negligence or no negligence, the plaintiff will lose since he or she bears the legal burden on this issue. Under this construction, the maxim is superfluous. It can be treated simply as a case of circumstantial evidence.
A different construction of the doctrine is that the defendant has an evidential burden to adduce some evidence of a lack of negligence. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the trier of fact must find for the plaintiff on the negligence issue: a compelled fact determination. If the defendant adduces sufficient evidence of no negligence to satisfy this evidential burden, the plaintiff bears the legal burden on the issue of negligence. The third possible construction is that both the evidential and legal burdens rest on the defendant to disprove negligence to a balance of probabilities.
Since the maxim often leads to confusion, its use might be abandoned and replaced by language that accurately conveys the evidentiary effect of unexplained circumstantial evidence from which negligence may be inferred. [At 81-2; emphasis added.]
 More importantly for the plaintiffs’ submission, the Court in Fontaine clearly rejected the argument that an inference of negligence arises (as a matter of law) whenever a vehicle goes off the road in a single-car accident. Major J. stated:
The appellant submitted that an inference of negligence should be drawn whenever a vehicle leaves the roadway in a single-vehicle accident. This bald proposition ignores the fact that whether an inference of negligence can be drawn is highly dependent upon the circumstances of each case: see Gauthier & Co., supra, at p. 150. The position advanced by the appellant would virtually subject the defendant to strict liability in cases such as the present one. [At para. 35; emphasis added.]
(Arguably, strict liability is also the logical extension of the “foot pace” reasoning in Laurie v. Raglan Bldg., quoted above.) If and to the extent that the Court in Savinkoff intended to establish or confirm a legal rule that negligence must be inferred as a matter of law whenever a vehicle goes off the road and that the defendant must always meet it in the manner suggested, I believe the decision has been superseded by Fontaine. Wherever the court finds on all the evidence that negligence has not been proven, or that the defendant has shown he drove with reasonable care, the defendant must succeed, whether or not he is able to “explain” how the accident occurred. This is not to suggest that an inference may not be drawn as a matter of fact in a particular case, where a vehicle leaves the road or a driver loses control; but as the trial judge stated at para. 53 of her reasons (citing Fontaine at paras. 20, 24 and 35), such an inference will be “highly dependant on the facts” of the case and the explanation required to rebut it will “vary in accordance with the strength of the inference sought to be drawn by the plaintiff.”
 I read Savinkoff, then, simply as an instance of an appellate court’s finding that the findings of fact made below were clearly wrong. (See para. 20.) Such is not the case here, where no basis has been shown for us to interfere with Russell J.’s findings that the defendant was driving at a reasonable speed and in an otherwise reasonable manner. As Gibbs J. A. said for this court in Phillips v. Lyle  B.C.J. No. 212:
Here, where there was evidence to support the findings of fact made in the trial judgment, the appellant could only succeed on the basis of inferences which ought to have been, but were not, drawn by the trial judge. For my part, I have not found any instance in the evidence where, on liability, the trial judgment can be found to be in error by reason of improperly drawn inferences. To infer is not synonymous with to speculate. An inference is defined as a fact or proposition deduced as a logical consequence from other facts already proven or admitted.