Danger Zone / School Zone
Dropping children off at school can be an emotional time. It can also be a chaotic, disorderly, and confused time when parents are running late for other commitments, and children are excited or reluctant to leave the vehicle.
In these circumstances, caution is a keyword. Drivers need to be cautious when entering a school zone, and the precious occupants of their vehicle also need to be cautious. Should a personal injury accident happen in a school zone, a court will need to determine whether the driver or child, or both, are liable for the accident. So we ask in this post about how a court would determine liability of drivers when a preoccupied student runs out into traffic in a school zone and gets into an accident. Would a court always find the driver liable? Would a court ever find a child to be liable? Can a parent be found liable for their child causing an accident in a school zone?
Drivers are held to the standard of a reasonable person in all of the circumstances. This does not mean perfection, but it does mean that the specific circumstances of the accident are important considerations. For example, in Walter v Plummer, the BC Court of Appeal confirmed that there is a higher standard of care in areas like school zones where it is known that students could be walking into the street. So in the area of a school zone, a driver’s duty of care will be increased if it is reasonably foreseeable that children could run into the street. This makes sense because children are not expected to exercise the same amount of caution in these areas as one would expect from an adult, and it is often characteristic of children to be more prone to distraction than a reasonable adult.
In another recent case of Taggart v. Heuchert, 2013 BCSC 1248, the court confirmed that once the presence of a child near a road is either known or should have been known to the driver, then the driver must take special precautions for the safety of the child. These precautions include “keeping a sharp look out, perhaps sounding the horn, but more importantly, immediately reducing the speed of the vehicle so as to be able to take evasive actions if required.”
However, depending on the facts, sometimes drivers are not 100% liable for accidents involving children in school zones and sometimes a court will hold the child fully, or partially, responsible. As an example, in Lee v Barker, a 12-year-old ran into traffic and was hit by a car while in a school zone. The court went over the circumstances and confirmed that even though the driver knew there were children in the area, there was not much she could have done to avoid the accident. The test is reasonableness, not perfection. The driver was found to be 20% responsible, and the child 80% responsible on the basis of contributory negligence.
And finally, the court in Taggart also discussed a parent’s legal responsibility if a child is hit inside a school zone. Basically, parents are held to the standard of a reasonably prudent parent in the circumstances, but the actual application of this standard varies according to the circumstances. For school zones, this might include educating the child about specific traffic safety and crosswalks, dropping the child off in a safe location within the school zone, and advising them about crosswalk guards. In Taggart, the parent was held to have met their standard and so they were not responsible.
Regarding accidents in school zones, it is always important to consider the specific circumstances. For drivers, they have to drive in a reasonable manner knowing that there is generally a higher duty of care in school zones. For children, they have to exercise the reasonable care of a child their age, and this often impacts on the education that they receive from their parent(s), which also has to be reasonable in the circumstances.
If you or your child have been involved in a motor vehicle accident in a school zone, it is important to understand how ICBC or a court may determine liability.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact BTM Lawyers LLP for a free, no-obligation consultation.