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City of Salmon Arm found not negligent after woman drives in ‘large trench’

A woman’s claim that the City of Salmon Arm’s negligence resulted in damage to her vehicle and injuries when she drove through a trench on Auto Road was denied by a Civil Resolution Tribunal.

According to the tribunal’s Jan. 13, 2022 ‘reasons for decision’ document, Diane Johnson said her vehicle was damaged and she was injured on Sept. 29, 2020 when she drove over a ‘break’ in the road. She said the city was negligent in failing to post signs warning about the break. She sought $5,627 for pain and suffering damages, the maximum allowed for minor injuries at that time. She also sought an additional $1,500 for reimbursement of her $500 deductible and other out-of-pocket expenses for vehicle repairs and treatment of injuries.

The city argued that Johnson failed to provide written notice of her claim within the time limit. It also argued the city is not legally responsible for the claimed damages because it conducted its road work project in accordance with a reasonable policy and was not negligent.

Johnson said the city’s signage policy allowed for inconsistency and error and should be: anytime a cut is made in a road, warning signage should be placed. The tribunal member, however, found Salmon Arm’s policy of only placing signs around potentially hazardous road projects was reasonable.

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Johnson questioned the city’s standard of care, while the city argued the trench was filled level and was strong enough to withstand vehicles driving over it at 60 km/hr, the speed limit. City staff said the trench, which was scheduled for paving on Sept. 30, 2020, was filled on Sept. 24 and checked on Sept. 25 and 28.

Johnson said when she drove over the trench on Sept. 29, it felt like she had hit a two to three-inch vertical cut in the road. She provided photos of two other trenches around the city but the tribunal found them irrelevant to the dispute.

She also provided an Oct. 5 receipt from a repair shop regarding a vibration in the vehicle. The invoice said the wheels were bent so it rebalanced them. A June 15 receipt for an unrelated issue was also presented, as it included a note stating recent “bent rim” damage was “consistent with hitting a large trench” in the road, as the damage was the same on all four wheels.

The tribunal member said it’s not clear if the tech, who signed the invoice with their first name only, had the qualifications under the tribunal’s expert evidence rules to determine the cause of damage, plus the size of a ‘large trench’ mentioned was not specified.

“Further, the statement does not address whether other factors may have contributed to the alleged damage from driving over a trench, such as speed, or whether the damage could have resulted from some other cause. Overall, I find the repair shop’s comments about the cause of Ms. Johnson’s vehicle damage unhelpful, and I place no weight on them,” stated the tribunal member.

The city said it received no other complaints about the trench, either before or after Johnson drove over it.

In the end, while the tribunal found Johnson’s complaint was submitted within the necessary time frame, it determined she had not established the City of Salmon Arm was negligent. She was ordered to pay the city $25 for the tribunal fee.

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Martha Wickett

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Martha Wickett

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