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Case Summary: Nahal v. Ram

Contributory negligence of a passenger will not be found by virtue of the passenger’s knowledge that the driver only has a novice driver’s licence without evidence that the passenger engaged in negligent acts or knew the driver was a poor or reckless driver.  

Nahal v. Ram, 2016 BCSC 39, per Jenkins, J.  


Facts: The Plaintiff Nahal (17 years old and in grade 12 at the time) was a passenger in a vehicle owned by the defendant Chander Ram and driven by the defendant Raajan Ram (“Ram”). The vehicle was occupied by the driver, the Plaintiff passenger in the front seat and three other friends in the backseat of the vehicle. The group in the Ram’s vehicle were intending on going to a friend’s house. While driving there, Ram missed the turn onto Inverness Street. When Ram was told that he missed the turn he made a sharp left turn and drove into a tree located on the boulevard.

The Plaintiff claimed to have suffered soft tissue injuries, headaches and lacerations to his head, and a mild traumatic brain injury, which affected his memory, career options and ability to participate in social and athletic activities.

The Defendants admitted liability but claimed that the Plaintiff was contributorily negligent because he knew: (i) Ram had a novice driver licence; (ii) Ram was an inexperienced driver; (iii) Ram had more passengers in the vehicle than was allowed by his novice licence; and (iv) over the course of the night, the Plaintiff had several opportunities to remove himself from the situation but did not do so.

Issue: Was the Plaintiff contributorily negligent?

II. HELD: No. There was no contributory negligence on the part of the Plaintiff. There was no evidence that the Plaintiff knew the defendant driver was a poor and reckless driver or that being a novice driver caused or contributed to the accident.

1. The defence submitted that the case of Wormald v. Chariot, 2015 BCSC 272 was similar to the instant case. There, the Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle driven by the defendant who had a novice drivers licence. The Court in Wormald found the Plaintiff to be contributorily negligent to 40% of the fault.
2. Justice Jenkins found that Wormald could be differentiated from the instant case based on several differences:

(a) There was no suggestion of any alcohol being consumed by anyone in Ram’s vehicle;
(b) The vehicle was not overloaded;
(c) The Plaintiff was wearing a seat belt;
(d) Above all, there was no imminent threat of egg throwing (as was the case in Wormald where the car’s occupants planned to throw eggs at people from the moving vehicle, with the reasonable expectation that the vehicle might be chased).

3. Justice Jenkins then considered that in the instant case:

(a) There was evidence that the Plaintiff had never previously been in a vehicle driven by Ram, but knew that Ram had a novice drivers licence;
(b) The Plaintiff was aware of the limitations placed on a novice licence, particularly that the novice driver was allowed only one non­family passenger in the vehicle he was driving;
(c) The Plaintiff had opportunities to exit the vehicle prior to the crash but did not ask or attempt to do so; and
(d) The Plaintiff had no role in the accident that occurred and no expectation of what was about to happen based on the moments leading up to the accident.

4. However, Justice Jenkins ultimately found that neither the Plaintiff’s knowledge of Ram’s novice licence nor the other factors submitted by the
Defence in connection with the novice driver designation were considerations relevant to contributory negligence.

(a) It is not negligent to enter as a passenger a vehicle driven by a novice driver given that the novice driver has similar obligations to be careful, cautious and alert while driving as drivers with more experience. In fact, Justice Jenkins stated that “it would be folly to find contributory negligence on the basis of simply being a passenger in a vehicle driven by a novice driver.”
(b) Justice Jenkins found that the greater risk of an accident in the circumstance of a novice driver can be likened to the greater risk posed by driving in icy or rainy conditions. Thus, it does not amount to negligence on the part of the passenger to agree to be a passenger of a driver in those circumstances.

5. Justice Jenkins stated that it would be different if the passenger was in the vehicle of a novice driver and remained, knowing that the driver was intoxicated or intended to participate in or encourage illegal or vandalistic acts while in the vehicle.

(a) This was not the facts in the case at bar; the Plaintiff took no negligent acts and thus, there was no contributory negligence.