In this unfortunate case, Ms. Hansen was a passenger in her own
car, which had run out of gas along an unlit highway on Texada
Island, British Columbia. She was rendered a quadriplegic by a
drunk driver, Mr. Leprieur, who veered off the road and struck the
car. Mr. Leprieur had been drinking that night at a local bar. Ms.
Hansen sued him, the bar and the driver of her car, Mr. Sulyma. Mr.
Sulyma had failed to turn on the hazard lights of the stopped car.
At trial, the Trial Judge apportioned liability at 70% to Mr.
Leprieur, 25% to Mr. Sulyma and 5% to the bar.
Mr. Sulyma appealed the decision on three bases: that the Trial
Judge had applied the wrong test for causation, that Ms. Hansen had
been negligent in not insisting that the hazard lights be turned
on, and that the Trial Judge had apportioned liability improperly.
The questions with respect to causation and Ms. Hansen's
liability were easily dismissed by the Court. However Mr. Sulyma
was successful in having liability re-apportioned, on the basis
that the 5% liability found against the bar was not proportionate
to its blameworthiness.
The Court quoted with approval from Lum (Guardian ad litem
of) v McLintock (1997) 45 BCLR (3d) 303 (SC) as follows:
In pragmatic terms, responsibility placed on commercial hosts is
likely to be most effective as a deterrent in keeping intoxicated
drivers off the roads. The cost of damage awards should modify
rational conduct of commercial hosts directed to maximizing
economic advantage [...]
On this basis, the liability of the bar was increased to 20%,
while the liability of Mr. Sulyma was reduced to 10%. It is
important to note that the Court considered the fact that the
blameworthiness of the bar in this case was evident in the
knowledge of the bar's employee that Mr. Leprieur had consumed
12 ounces of whiskey and no food, and that another patron had asked
if Mr. Laprieur wanted to rent a room at the bar overnight. This
blameworthiness was further emphasized by the statutory duty of a
commercial establishment in British Columbia to not serve alcohol
to an intoxicated person.
The increased proportion of liability to the bar in this case is
a further demonstration of the civil law's role as an agent for
social responsibility, and a warning to commercial drinking
establishments that they face significant liability where they fail
to properly supervise the actions of their patrons.
It is also worth noting that Mr. Sulyma was found to be
negligent in the operation of the motor vehicle by failing to turn
on the hazard lights. The driver of a vehicle is responsible for
the safety of the passengers of the vehicle, and must use common
sense to ensure that the vehicle is visible at night.
This case is a welcome reminder for everyone to be mindful of
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