While an incident of road rage can be unpleasant and sometimes even threatening, such incidents usually do not result in car accidents. When they do and a third party suffers serious injuries, who is responsible – the person who directly caused the collision or the person that inflamed the situation through acts of road rage?

This was the issue considered by the Court of Appeal for Ontario in the recent decision of Moran v Fabrizi, the topic of this blog post.

Plaintiff was injured in a car accident and received compensation from the at-fault driver

The plaintiff, in this case, was injured while she was the passenger in a minivan being driven by her grandmother. The van was being driven down a four-lane street in Mississauga through an intersection. After the light turned green, it was struck on the side by a vehicle driven by Mr. Fabrizi, who had run a red light.

The plaintiff sued Mr. Fabrizi and the action settled with the plaintiff receiving $220,000 in compensation.

The at-fault driver sought a contribution from a person that threatened him

Mr. Fabrizi then sued Mr. Chu, arguing that an episode of road rage from Mr. Chu, which occurred before the accident, was the real cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Mr. Fabrizi sought a contribution from Mr. Chu for the settlement.

The Court of Appeal said:

“The real fight in the third party action is between Fabrizi’s insurer, who settled with [the plaintiff], and Chu’s insurer, over what proportion each policy would be required to contribute to the payment of the settlement.”

The at-fault driver experienced road rage immediately prior to the accident

After hearing the competing versions of the story, the trial judge decided that Mr. Fabrizi was driving along a two-lane residential street when he encountered Mr. Chu driving very slowly. Mr. Fabrizi then overtook Mr. Chu on the left. 

This angered Mr. Chu, who accelerated and passed Mr. Fabrizi, coming to a stop at the intersection where the accident occurred. The judge then found that Mr. Fabrizi and his passenger were the victims of road rage, with Mr. Chu getting out of his vehicle to verbally assault them and threaten them with violence. The passenger described being “screamed at by a muscular, agitated man”, which the judge found amounted to intentional tortious conduct. 

In an attempt to flee the scene, Mr. Fabrizi drove forward into the intersection, past Mr. Chu’s vehicle, where he struck the minivan.

What are the rules of causation?

A person can only be held responsible for the injuries sustained by someone if their acts or omissions caused or contributed to them. Under the Negligence Act, where damages have been caused or contributed to by the fault of two or more people, the court must determine the degree that each person is at fault.

Importantly, only one of these people needs to engage in negligent conduct. If the other engages in intentional conduct, which also caused or contributed to the injury, they can both be found liable. 

Courts apply the so-called “but for” test to determine whether particular conduct caused the injury. This requires the plaintiff to show that the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s negligence. If the injury flows from acts committed by different people, each of which was a necessary cause of the injury, the people are jointly liable in proportion to their degree of fault.

Trial judge found the road rage driver was 50% responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries

The trial judge decided that the accident would not have occurred but for Mr. Chu’s conduct. This was because:

“[Mr. Fabrizi] felt an increased, necessary urge to leave the scene as soon as possible and escape the threatening atmosphere caused by Chu, whose conduct was necessary to ultimately bring about the plaintiff’s injuries.”

In other words, Mr. Fabrizi would not have plowed through the red light and hit the minivan if Mr. Chu was not threatening him. However, the trial judge apportioned liability between Mr. Fabrizi and Mr. Chu 50-50 because Mr. Chu’s threats were not so imminent to prevent Mr. Fabrizi from proceeding carefully. He did not enter the intersection safely.

As a result of these findings, the trial judge required Mr. Chu to pay Mr. Fabrizi $110,000, representing half of the settlement amount. 

The at-fault driver’s actions were not an intervening act breaking the causal link

Mr. Chu appealed. He made a number of arguments before the Court of Appeal, including that Mr. Fabrizi’s actions amounted to an intervening act that broke the causal link between Mr. Chu’s actions and the plaintiff’s injuries. 

The Court rejected this argument. Mr. Chu’s necessary role meant that Mr. Fabrizi’s negligent decision was not the only cause of the injuries.

“Agony of the moment” doctrine also does not help the road rage driver

Mr. Chu also argued that the doctrine of agony of the moment, which can excuse negligent conduct that occurs in an emergency or panic, should absolve him of liability. The Court swiftly rejected this argument, noting that he could not raise the defence because, to the extent there was an emergency, he had created it. 

The Court pointed out that the trial judge rejected the application of this doctrine in substance by finding that Mr. Fabrizi was still under an obligation to proceed safely into the intersection, despite the situation created by Mr. Chu.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr. Chu’s appeal.

Contact Campbell Litigation, Serving Waterloo, Kitchener and the Surrounding Area – Car Accidents Lawyer

The team at Campbell Litigation, led by litigator Richard Campbell, has the resources and experience to help you get the compensation you deserve if you have suffered injuries as a result of someone else’s negligence. We can also assist you if your insurance company refuses to pay out your claim. To schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our personal injury team, call us at 519-886-1204 or contact us online.