According to a Supreme Court ruling in British Columbia, a driver who hit a moose on a B.C. highway has been found liable for another collision for failing to sufficiently warn other motorists of the carcass.
The driver, oil patch worker Harris John Wheeler who was 71-years-old at the time, was traveling north on the Alaska Highway in northeastern British Columbia between Dawson Creek and Fort St. John when he struck the moose at around 7 p.m. on Feb. 21, 2011. According to Wheeler, it was dark out and the moose ran out in front his vehicle before he had time to avoid the animal. He was driving at 90 km/hour, below the speed limit of 100 km/hour.
After striking the moose with his white 2003 Ford pick-up, he kept driving for a short distance before pulling over to check for damage. He then got back in his vehicle and continued to drive north, looking for a place to turn around to return to the site of the accident.
By the time Wheeler returned to the scene, a pick-up truck also heading north had hit the moose’s body lying on the road, colliding head-on with another car. Multiple cars were pulled over to help.
Around 10 minutes after the original accident, 29-year-old Aron Walter hit the corpse with his pick-up truck. He lost control and crossed the centre line into the southbound lane, colliding head-on with another vehicle carrying a four-month-old baby. There were no serious injuries in either vehicle.
Supreme Court Justice Jeanne Watchuk said that instead of immediately checking his truck for damages, Wheeler should have remained at the scene to warn other drivers on the highway. She says he should have drawn attention to the corpse in the road, so others could drive around it, by turning on his hazard lights and shining his headlines on the corpse. Justice Watchuk also said he could have even placed the flares he kept in his truck around the moose.
“The driver of a motor vehicle owes a duty of care to other users of the highway, and that driver will be at fault if he does not exercise the reasonable care, skill or reasonable self-possession that are required in the circumstances,” Watchuk stated.
“There was a minimum of nine minutes between the collision of Mr. Wheeler and the moose, and the [other] collision,” the justice continued. “Nine minutes was ample opportunity for him to have taken steps to warn other motorists.”
Collisions with wildlife are commonplace in Canada. And across the country, the courts have been deciding who should take responsibility to prevent wildlife-vehicular accidents.
Earlier this year, a judge in Newfoundland dismissed a class-action lawsuit that claimed the provincial government was negligent by failing to do enough to protect motorists from moose on highways. The plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision.