Chris Bacon and Sharene Orstad joined Gordon Hilliker, Q.C. in representing 18 year old Jeffrey Rimmer who suffered permanent irreversible brain damage when the car he was driving crashed into logs after hitting flood waters on the east side of the Salmon River Bridge in Langley Township. The case is significant because it confirms that townships and municipalities have a duty of care to motorists using the roadways and that duty extends to taking reasonable steps to prevent injury to users of roads by reason of hazardous conditions like flooding due to storm events.
In the Rimmer case, the 18 year old Plaintiff was driving home from work (a few minutes from his home) on a dark and stormy December night. To get home Mr. Rimmer had to travel over the Salmon River Bridge. Because of the heavy rains the river had burst its banks and there was between 16″ and 2 ft of water on the road on the east side of the bridge.
There was no overhead lighting on that stretch of road, no light from nearby buildings, no warning signs indicating the area was prone to periodic flooding nor were there any barricades to warn motorists the road was submerged. In addition, there is a slight dip on the east side of the bridge which hampers visibility. As a result, it was difficult to see the water until it was too late - a set of circumstances confirmed by other eye witnesses who had encountered the flooded road before the accident. When Mr. Rimmer crossed the bridge he hit the water, lost control of his car and crashed into a pile of logs that had been left (by the Township) on the south embankment of the river. As a result, he suffered a serious, permanent brain injury.
Langley refused to settle the case arguing that Mr. Rimmer was driving too fast (113 kmh) and therefore the accident was entirely his own fault. The Township also claimed it was unaware that the road had been the site of periodic and repeated flooding over the years. The Township also claimed that on the night of the accident crews were too busy responding to other emergencies to inspect or attend to the conditions at the Salmon River Bridge. After investigation by the Plaintiff’s legal team, it was discovered that the Township’s Storm Contingency Patrol Map indicated the Township was required to patrol the Salmon River Bridge and close it if it flooded. Also, the Plaintiff’s engineering expert found that Langley had built an asphalt strip along the flood zone to protect the shoulder during “regular storm events” which indicated there had been knowledge of the potential for problems at that location. The judge also found that the Township was supposed to have had 4 patrol crews out that night but had sent 2 home before the accident which tended to cast doubt on Langley’s initial argument that they had been too busy to inspect the bridge. The evidence revealed that one crew was sent home and in fact none of the patrols had done any patrolling but had only responded to calls.
Langley’s position that Mr. Rimmer’s speed was the reason he crashed was based on evidence provided by the Township’s engineer. On cross examination by the Plaintiff’s legal team it was found that the research the engineer had used to calculate Mr. Rimmer’s speed was flawed so much so that if the figures had been added up correctly Mr. Rimmer would have had to have been travelling faster than his car was capable of going. As a result, the judge did not accept the engineer’s opinion on Rimmer’s speed.
While the court found that other drivers had driven through the flood zone safely, indicating that Mr. Rimmer had been driving too fast for the weather conditions, the judge also found that Langley had been negligent in applying their own storm contingency plan and failed to meet the duty of care to take reasonable steps to prevent injury to users of the roads by reason of hazardous conditions.
The judge found that the Township was aware of the potential for flooding at the accident location in the event of a storm event. The court also concluded that no adequate system was in place for the carrying out of the Township’s operational requirements in a storm event and as such it failed in its duty of care to make the roadway reasonably safe and to take reasonable steps to prevent injury to users of the road by reason of the hazardous flooding conditions. In the end, the judge held the Township liable for 60% of Mr. Rimmer’s losses.
The Township appealed and lost after which the case was settled out of court.
To read the court’s full decision click here.
Rimmer v. Township of Langley, 2006 BCSC 703
Note: References to successful case outcomes where DBM lawyers have acted for a client or clients are not a guarantee of future results. The outcome of any legal proceeding depends on the specific facts of the case.