The Importance of Causation

In Lancaster (Litigation Guardian of) v. Santos, [2011] O.J. No. 3706, the County of Dufferin was added as a third party in an action arising out of a MVA on November 21, 2001 involving a fully-loaded pickup truck being driven by Mr. Santos and the plaintiff’s vehicle.

The transport had tipped over when coming around a curve and slid into oncoming traffic. It was alleged that but for the County’s failure to properly sign the portion of the road in issue, Mr. Santos would have been aware of the hazardous road condition and would have reduced his speed such that he could have managed the curve.

Lemon J., found the cause of the accident, on a balance of probabilities, to be the shifting of the truck’s load as a result of it not being properly secured. Mr. Santos had testified that the signs which existed provided some warning and he reacted to it by slowing down. As a result of this testimony, the road conditions and signage were not found to be the cause.

Lemon J., went on to determine whether the County could have been liable had there been causation. The plaintiff argued that when the County breached the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) by not properly signing the road, it breached its duty of care.

Lemon J., stated: “while I agree that this sign did not meet the standard set by the MUTCD, and that other drivers in other circumstances might have been mislead, that was not the case for Mr. Santos…The sign as posted was doing its job”.

This case is significant in that that court confirms an obvious yet often overlooked principle – If there is a breach of the duty of care, it must have contributed to or caused the MVA. Municipalities should keep in mind that although they perhaps made a mistake at some point in time, it must be considered whether this mistake caused or contributed to the MVA.

Thanks to our articling student, Kristen Dearlove, for this post.

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