SURREY — A young woman has been awarded nearly $443,000 in court for damages caused when a car that was being chased by a Surrey RCMP cruiser slammed into the van she had been riding in on her way home from church.
A 2010 Nissan Maxima driven by Tarun Roy crashed into the 2002 Chevrolet Venture, in which Mean Joo Kweon was a back seat passenger, at 96th Avenue and Fraser Highway. The crash happened on Aug. 28, 2010.
Justice Ronald Skolrood, in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, found Roy 85 per cent to blame for the crash and Constable Peter Leckie, 15 per cent.
“I am satisfied that Constable Leckie owed a duty of care to other motorists when he initiated the pursuit and that he breached the standard of care by failing to properly assess the risk of pursuing Mr. Roy into the corner on 96th Avenue and by failing to terminate the pursuit despite the obvious dangers that it presented,” the judge noted in his reasons for decision.
The court heard Kweon, now 26, moved to B.C. with her parents and younger sister from South Korea in 1995, graduated from high school in Surrey in 2008 and was a UBC sophomore pursuing a degree in French at the time of the crash. She helped her church with missions work and vacation Bible camp, tutored children, volunteered, and enjoyed playing flute, swimming, hiking and biking.
She had little recollection of the crash.
“The last thing that Ms. Kweon remembers before the accident is the van turning right onto Fraser Highway,” Skolrood noted. “Her next memory is lying on a stretcher at Surrey Memorial Hospital.”
The Venture was a write-off. Its driver, Ji Hae Kim, found Kweon hanging out of her seat, unconscious and bleeding from her head. Doctors testified she suffered from pelvic injuries, a concussion, lacerations, bruises, spinal injuries, chronic pain syndrome, depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and brain injury.
She sued Tarun Roy, West Coast Nissan Ltd., the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General of B.C.
Roy, 34, was working as an assistant sales manager at West Coast Nissan and had been driving a demonstration car. The court heard he was entitled to use cars from the dealership but was not authorized to take this particular one. He and his wife were celebrating their anniversary at his parent’s home and then he left for his Surrey condo. The court heard he was heading west on 96th Avenue, stopped at a red light at 152nd Street and when it turned green, he accelerated and the tires “peeled.”
The judge noted Roy saw a police car behind him with lights flashing, heard its siren, panicked and accelerated to get away, speeding up to 130 km/hr.
“Mr. Roy said that the police car came right up behind him and remained two to three car lengths behind him,” Skolrood said. Roy said he ran a red light at 148th Street and the cop followed him through. “Mr. Roy described a ‘cat and mouse’ chase in which the police car would pull right up behind him then drop off a bit before catching up again, but always staying within two to three car lengths. According to Mr. Roy, this went on for 10 minutes or so.”
Roy told the court he didn’t stop for the constable because he panicked. Knowing he was not supposed to have the Maxima, he was worried it might be impounded and he might lose his job.
He was not injured in the crash. When he got out of the car, the court heard, he heard someone yelling but again panicked and ran home, not looking back at the crash scene to see if anyone was injured.
The next morning, he told his boss about the crash and she told him to report it to the police. “When he called the police,” Skolrood noted, “he told the operator that he had been in an accident caused by him fiddling with buttons on the dashboard and becoming distracted. He did not tell the police operator, or his boss, about the involvement of a police car.”
At the time of the crash, Constable Peter Leckie had been a police officer for about eight months. The judge found he and Roy gave different versions of what happened and that “little of Mr. Roy’s evidence is believable.” Skolrood determined Roy’s claim the officer played “cat and mouse” with him for about 10 minutes to be “wholly inaccurate.”
Skolrood also found “flaws” in Leckie’s account. “Constable Leckie gave inconsistent evidence about if and when he formed the opinion that Mr. Roy’s vehicle was attempting to evade him,” the judge decided.
“In addition, I do not accept Constable Leckie’s evidence that he never got closer than about 400-500 metres to Mr. Roy’s vehicle.”
Counsel for the RCMP argued that there was no causal link between the constable’s conduct and the crash that injured Kweon.
“I disagree,” Skolrood declared. “There was no reason for Mr. Roy to enter that turn at such a speed except for the fact that he was being pursued by Constable Leckie and was engaged in a misguided attempt to escape. Had Constable Leckie not initiated the pursuit, or had he terminated it well before the vehicles approached the turn, the accident likely would not have occurred. Accordingly, I find that the negligence of Constable Leckie caused, or at a minimum materially contributed to, the accident that resulted in Ms. Kweon’s injuries.”
The lawyers for Kweon and ICBC submitted the RCMP should be held 25 to 30 per cent liable for the crash while counsel for the RCMP argued it should be no more than 10 to 15 per cent.
“In my view,” Skolrood determined, “the conduct of Constable Leckie lies at the low end of the spectrum of police conduct that has resulted in findings of liability.
“Here,” he said, “the pursuit took place over a relatively short distance and for a minimal time period, albeit at a high speed on a street where the officer knew there was imminent danger ahead. Taking account of all of the circumstances, I find a reasonable apportionment of liability to be 85 per cent to Mr. Roy and 15 per cent to Constable Leckie.”