Defendant Not Liable For Accident On Icy Road

In Geiger v Schmidt, the Plaintiff was a passenger in a motor vehicle. She asked the driver to slow down due to icy conditions, which he did. She asked him to slow down some more, but before he was able to, the car spun out of control and struck the same median twice. The Court held that the Defendant was not negligent.


[43]      The plaintiff acknowledges the defendant responded to the conditions with his speed decrease. But in effect, she says that when she cautioned him to lessen his speed further because she felt he was driving too fast for the conditions, his duty to take all reasonable precautions obliged him to lower his speed further. The plaintiff points to her considerable experience driving in snow and suggests she was a good judge of a safe speed in those conditions. However, I note the defendant also had considerable experience driving in the snow.


[44]       In my view, given the fact the defendant was attuned to the conditions he was facing and had responded to them by lowering his speed by almost one-third, the negligence question in this case comes down to deciding whether he failed to exercise all reasonable care because he failed to comply with the plaintiff’s suggestion by lowering his speed and transferring the driveline to four wheel drive before he lost control. In other words, did exercising all reasonable precautions encompass disregarding his own assessment and complying with the plaintiff’s suggestion?


[45]      In some circumstances, reasonable drivers assessing driving conditions would consider the suggestions of passengers, especially when the driver is inexperienced or less familiar with the road then the passenger. In many cases, the passenger’s recommendation will correspond with the most objectively reasonable precaution.


[46]         However, the driver is ultimately responsible for assessing the objective conditions and responding in a reasonable way. In the circumstances of this case, I find the defendant’s failure to follow the plaintiff’s suggestion to slow down and transfer to four-wheel drive is not sufficient to satisfy the plaintiff’s burden of establishing the defendant was negligent.


[47]         Further, I heard no evidence of what speed would be low enough in the conditions the defendant was facing to prevent a loss of control and the spin outs that followed. There was no evidence to show that, had the defendant switched into four-wheel drive or reduced his speed, he could have avoided the accident. A judge can take judicial notice of the natural correlation between higher speed and decreased traction; but such common knowledge does not licence a leap from that to a conclusion the defendant likely would have avoided the accident if the plaintiff had agreed with the plaintiff and lowered his speed.


[48]         This is not a case of a driver ignoring passenger pleas to slow down while driving at a speed all reasonably cautious drivers would consider unsafe in the circumstances.


[49]         The standard of care is not perfection. There is no evidence the defendant was inattentive or indifferent to road conditions. His decision to delay transferring to four wheel drive until he felt ready doing so was not unreasonable. The vehicle was equipped with snow tires. The temperature was around 4 degrees centigrade. The defendant was exercising reasonable caution by driving a full 30 kph below the posted speed limit.


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