Iannarella v. Corbett, 2015 ONCA 110

Once the plaintiff has proven that a rear-end collision occurred, the evidentiary burden shifts from the plaintiff to the defendant, who must then show that he or she was not negligent.

Released February 17, 2015 | Full Decision [CanLII]

This appeal concerned (in part) liability in a rear-end collision.  The accident happened in winter conditions and the appellant claimed he slammed on his brakes but his truck slid into the car in front of him because of the slippery road surface.

The Court of Appeal took issue with the trial judge’s standard jury charge regarding the onus of proof in rear-end collisions.  As stated, most judges use some variation of the following charge from O’Brien’s Jury Charges (1998):

A prudent motorist should drive at such rate of speed with his vehicle under such control that he is able to pull up within the range of his vision. If there is any difficulty in seeing because of weather conditions, then common sense dictates that he should travel more slowly. In other words, “if you can’t see where you’re going don’t go”. If the road is icy or slippery, then even more care should be taken. In a case where a vehicle is struck without the driver of the rear vehicle having seen it until it was too late to avoid a collision, then you should ask yourselves; (1) Was he keeping a proper lookout? (2) If he was keeping the best lookout possible, was he going too fast for the lookout that could be kept in the circumstances?”

Members of the jury, generally speaking, when one car runs into another from behind, in the absence of any excuse for such a collision, the driver of the rear car must satisfy you that the collision did not occur as a result of his negligence.

In this case, the Lauwers J.A. re-affirmed shifted onus in rear-end collisions, holding:

I would make one minor change to the wording of the standard charge: the phrase “in the absence of any excuse for such a collision” should be deleted. In my view, the driver of the rear vehicle might well have an excuse for the collision that satisfies the jury that the accident did not occur as a result of his or her negligence. Nonetheless, the duty to provide that explanation rests on the defendant, not the plaintiff. To put it differently, once the plaintiff has proven that a rear-end collision occurred, the evidentiary burden shifts from the plaintiff to the defendant, who must then show that he or she was not negligent. This analysis would apply even where an emergency situation is alleged, as in this case.

Read the full decision on CanLII
Michael Ettedgui
Written by

Michael practices exclusively in the field of personal injury law at Campisi LLP.

Michael was called to the Bar in 2014. He received his law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, where he participated in various programs geared towards access to justice and practical legal education. In particular, Michael volunteered with unrepresented litigants at family court and was the student co-ordinator of Osgoode Hall's Pro Bono Students Canada chapter.

When he is not working, Michael enjoys spending time with his wife and three young children.