when negligent driving puts another person in peril, rescuers are given special treatment and are allowed to claim damages for injuries resulting from the rescue. However, the claimant in this personal injury appeal case was not able to prove that there was a true peril and therefore was not considered a rescuer ( Ray v. Bates, 2015 BCCA 216).
The claimant was driving a bus on Apex Mountain Road when another driver came around a hairpin corner, lost control of his vehicle and slid into the path of the bus. No one was injured in the car accident, though there was some damage to the vehicles.
The claimant left his bus to contact the road maintenance contractor with a view to having a salting or sanding truck sent out. As he walked along the road he slipped and fell, sustaining injuries to a tendon in his thigh and to his knee. He required surgery, and alleges that he suffered permanent pain and disability. The bus driver claimed against the negligent driver as a rescuer.
As the Court of Appeal made clear, in a negligence claim, the chain of causation will be potentially broken where an independent voluntary human action intervenes between the negligent act and the injury. This principle is often referred to as “novus actus interveniens” . The doctrine can be difficult to apply and admits of certain exceptions, including that of the rescuer.
In this case, the claimant’s decision to leave his vehicle and walk down a slippery road would break the chain of causation between the defendants’ negligence and the injury. The Court of Appeal therefore found that the claimants actions did not  fall within the  “rescuer” cases exception.

[14] The rationale for special treatment of rescuers is that where a person’s negligence puts another person (or him/herself) in peril, it is entirely foreseeable that a bystander will react by attempting to eliminate the peril. The classic statement of the doctrine is that of Cardozo J. in Wagner v. International Railway Co. (1921), 232 N.Y. Rep. 176 at 180, 133 N.E. 437 at 437-8:

Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind in tracing conduct to its consequences. It recognises them as normal. It places their effects within the range of the natural and probable. The wrong that imperils life is a wrong to the imperilled victim; it is a wrong also to his rescuer…. The risk of rescue, if only it be not wanton, is born of the occasion. The emergency begets the man. The wrongdoer may not have foreseen the coming of a deliverer. He is accountable as if he had..l

[22]        In rescue cases, the law does not find the chain of causation to be broken by the rescuer’s actions because they are considered to be foreseeable consequences of the peril created by the negligence. In order for a plaintiff to bring him or herself within the principles applicable to rescue cases, therefore, the plaintiff must demonstrate that his or her actions were motivated by a reasonable perception of a peril that was caused by the defendant’s negligence.

In the Court’s opinion, the claimant could not reasonably have perceived a peril in the circumstances of this case. The claimant was attempting to contact road maintenance officials to deal with the slipperiness of the road. That problem was purely a product of weather conditions, and not of the motor vehicle accident.

Posted by Vancouver Personal Injury Lawyer Mr. Renn A. Holness, B.A. LL.B.

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