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Credibility assessment and fault

Faced with different stories of how a crash happened, who will the judge believe? What factors will be considered in assessing the credibility of the parties?

In the case of Bingul v. Youngson, 2016 BCSC 1868, Madam Justice Baker was asked to decide who was at fault for a collision that occurred on November 24, 2011. The car operated by the plaintiff (Bingul) was struck from the rear by a dump truck, operated by the defendant (Youngson).  Bingul alleged that the collision occurred because Youngson was negligent in failing to stop in time to avoid the collision, and that he had been stopped at a light for some time when he was rear-ended. Youngson alleged that the collision occurred when he was approaching a red light, because Bingul abruptly moved into his lane (presumably to be the first off the line when the light changed) and cut him off. His stopping distance reduced by half, made it impossible for him to stop in time. A co-worker of Youngston (a Mr. Tupper) was a distance behind the collision, but his testimony of what he saw aligned with Youngson’s testimony.

Facing these two very different explanations of how the collision occurred, Madam Justice Baker first summarized the law, noting that the prima facie case of negligence in a rear-end collision can be  struck by an explanation from the defendant, citing Singleton v. Morris 2010 BCCA 48. She noted that there were significant inconsistencies between Bingul’s pre-crash statements (to adjusters and in discovery) and his testimony at trial.  She observed that the cross-examination of Youngson did not reveal any significant inconsistencies with his pre-trial statements. She noted that Tupper’s observations were supportive of Youngson to some extent, despite the distance of his vantage point.

Madame Justice Baker went on to consider inconsistencies in Bingul’s testimony about his earnings and work history as relevant to his general credibility. Regarding the circumstances of the collision, she concluded that she must prefer Youngson’s evidence over Bingul’s evidence. She found that Bingul’s sudden and negligent move was the sole cause of the collision, and dismissed his claims:

[51]         Mr. Bingul proved to be a poor historian in relation to his work history; particularly in 2011 – the year in which the accident happened.  In 2011, Mr. Bingul had quit his job with his employer of many years following a conflict with another employee.  He went to work for a roofing company; but then was rehired by his previous employer.  Mr. Bingul initially said he had been back at work for his original employer for perhaps five or six months before the accident happened.  According to the employer’s records; he had actually been back to work for his original employer for only one month before the accident.

[52]         Mr. Bingul also testified that he had been earning about $50,000 a year in the years before the accident; and expected he would have earned about the same amount in 2011 if the accident had not happened.  Tax returns entered into evidence indicated that Mr. Bingul never earned more than $33,000 a year in the several years before the accident and was unlikely to have earned more than $25,000 in 2011 even if the accident had not happened.

[53]         Having considered these and other matters relevant to credibility, and taking into account the testimony of Mr. Tupper, which supports the testimony of Mr. Youngson, I conclude that I must and do prefer the evidence of Mr. Youngson about the circumstances of the accident.  I conclude that Mr. Youngson has provided an explanation for the collision − the sudden and unexpected lane change made by Mr. Bingul − that negatives the prima facie assumption of liability on the following driver.

[54]         I am unable to conclude that anything done or not done by Mr. Youngson constituted negligence that caused or contributed to the collision.  Mr. Youngson testified that as he was approaching the intersection with Clark Drive he anticipated having to bring his vehicle to a stop for a red light.  He braked and down-shifted and reduced his speed to 30 to 35 kph as he approached the intersection.  He testified that had Mr. Bingul not suddenly moved into his lane ahead of him, he would have able to bring his vehicle to a complete stop at or before the stop line, but that Mr. Bingul’s move reduced his stopping distance to an unsafe degree.

[55]         Mr. Bingul was aware that there was a large and heavy vehicle in the lane.  I conclude that it was solely Mr. Bingul’s sudden and negligent move into the lane of travel of Mr. Youngson’s large and heavy vehicle that created the risk of collision and resulted in the accident.

[56]         I therefore dismiss the plaintiff’s claims against all defendants.