If you’ve ever followed a semi-tuck and trailer along a highway, you will hopefully know that, when it comes to making left-hand turns, quite often the truck will signal left, then move to the right in order to complete a wide left-hand turn. You would be surprised, however, at the number of times that these turns go wrong, particularly when the operator of a following vehicle sees the truck move to the right and makes a decision to overtake on the left. Where does liability lie in this circumstance?
The first place to look is the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation, AR 304/2002 (the “Regulation”), which sets out specific driver rules with respect to both making turns and overtaking.
According to the Regulation, a person driving a vehicle that is overtaking another vehicle:
(a) shall, at a safe distance, pass to the left of the other vehicle, and
(b) shall not return the overtaking vehicle to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle whereupon that person shall return the overtaking vehicle to the right side of the roadway.
Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, a person driving a vehicle that has been overtaken by another vehicle shall give way to the right in favour of the overtaking vehicle.
However, notwithstanding anything in the Regulation, a person driving a vehicle is not drive the vehicle so as to overtake and pass or attempt to overtake or to pass another vehicle when the act of overtaking and passing cannot be made safely.
With respect to making turns, the person driving the turning vehicle must:
(a) …ascertain that there is sufficient space in which to make the movement in safety, and
(b) following making that ascertation, cause the appropriate signal […] to be made.
The signal is to be given in sufficient time to provide a reasonable warning to other persons of the intention of that person.
Although a breach of the Regulations does not by itself equal negligence, such a breach may be evidence of negligence.
I will not write at length about the facts of each case here, and I encourage you to contact me or one of our Insurance Defence team for additional information, but what I will do is to provide the following list of Alberta decisions in relation to this issue, and the outcomes of each.
Kovacs v Shingar 1983 ABCA 120 : the left turning driver was found 100% at fault for the collision. The driver inexplicably commenced a left hand turn and the overtaking driver acted reasonably.
Todd v Panna,  AJ No 455 (QB) : the left turning driver was found 100% at fault for the collision. The left turning driver did not signal their intent to turn and was at least partially in the right lane when commencing the left turn.
Charet v Boonstra (1997), 210 AR 121 (QB) : the left turning driver was found 100% at fault for the collision. The left turning driver slowed the vehicle and moved to the right lane leading the overtaking driver to conclude that he was going to stop on the right of the highway. The court noted the heavy onus on left turning drivers.
Cheung v Champion,  AJ No 428 (QB) : the left turning driver was found 100% at fault for the collision. The left turning driver had relied on a rear view mirror and not shoulder checked, and had pulled out from a stopped position on the right-hand side of the road without noticing the overtaking vehicle. Based upon the facts, in this case it was irrelevant that the driver had the left turn signal activated.
Vollrath v Bruce, 2000 ABQB 972 : the left turning driver was found 100% at fault for the collision. Prior to turning left, the left turning driver had failed to signal his left turn in sufficient time to give the plaintiff warning of his intention to turn. The Court found that the left turning driver should have known that the trailing driver was likely to pass him, and that he should have waited for the plaintiff to pass before executing his left turn.
Koch Oil Co. Ltd. v Bevans, 2003 ABQB 99 : the left turning driver was found 85% at fault for the collision. 15% liability was attributed to the overtaking vehicle for approaching the left turning vehicle while knowing that the vehicle was located in the blind spot of the left turning vehicle. The left-turning vehicle was 85% liable for the accident for failing to be vigilant in monitoring his mirrors, failing to signal (at all or in time), and failing to shoulder check before turning left.
Forsyth v Sehn, 2006 ABQB 488 : the left turning driver was found 10% at fault for the collision. The evidence showed that she had signalled left, checked her mirrors and applied her brakes but had failed to shoulder check. The overtaking vehicle, found 90% at fault, had tried to pass on the left while two vehicles ahead of that vehicle had passed the turning vehicle on the right.
Alford v Canada, 2010 ABQB 192 : the left turning driver was found faultless and 100% of the liability was attributed to the overtaking vehicle. In this case, the left turning vehicle had been stopped waiting for oncoming traffic to pass with its signal activated, waiting to turn left when it was rear ended by the defendant. The defendant, an overtaking police vehicle, had its lights and siren flashing and was traveling at 80km/h. The court found that the plaintiff was stopped, there was no practical way for him to move further to the right, and that he had met the heavy onus placed on left turning vehicles.
In conclusion, the case law clearly illustrates that the apportionment of liability between an overtaking driver and a left-turning driver is fact specific; however there is a heavy onus on the left-turning driver to ensure that a collision does not occur. If it can be demonstrated that the left-turning vehicle driver demonstrated due care and attention, and was diligent in signalling, decelerating, checking mirrors, and shoulder checking, liability for the collision may be shifted to the overtaking vehicle