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Icon Law Group Wins Appeal: New Duty of Care for RCMP Dispatchers

Prepared by Kenneth Armstrong KC

· General topics,Cases,Insurance

Icon Law Group lawyers Kenneth Armstrong KC and Daria Batkin were pleased to obtain a decision from the BC Court of Appeal that expands the law to allow motorists to obtain damages against RCMP operators and dispatchers who fail to take reasonable steps to protect the public from known road hazards. The decision, made on April 26, 2024, arose from a motor vehicle accident that took place on Thanksgiving Monday, October 19, 2016.

Traffic lights at the intersection of Lougheed Highway, a provincial highway, and Nelson Street in Mission had been out for many hours. Just over 90 minutes prior to the collision, another road user telephoned the RCMP non-emergency line to report the inoperative traffic lights. No steps were taken by RCMP operators or dispatchers to notify either the relevant municipality, or the province, for over an hour, and not until another road user also complained about the inoperative traffic lights. Just over 20 minutes prior to the collision, an employee of the road maintenance contractor responsible for patrolling Lougheed Highway, passed through the intersection and observed the inoperative traffic lights. He didn’t stop to put out warning signs, and he didn’t phone or radio anyone to call in traffic flaggers. He returned through the intersection about 10 minutes later and again took no steps.

A vehicle had been waiting about 40 seconds on Nelson to turn left onto Lougheed Highway, however eastbound traffic was not following a four-way stop procedure. They eventually tried to navigate across the oncoming traffic but were struck by another vehicle traveling through the intersection. We represented the driver of that vehicle at trial and on appeal.

The issue of the RCMP operators’ negligence raised interesting legal questions. There is limited case law regarding the liability of police or emergency operators to the public, and the existing case law holding police or emergency operators liable all involved claims brought by the caller who became a victim of crime. There had been no cases holding that police or emergency operators had a duty of care to road users as a whole when aware of emergency situations, such as inoperative traffic lights.

The trial judge held, and the BC Court of Appeal confirmed, that RCMP operators and dispatchers are potentially liable to motorists when they don’t take reasonable steps after becoming aware of a hazardous road condition, thus establishing an incrementally new or novel duty of care. The trial judge also found the two motorists and the road maintenance contractor liable for their negligence.

RCMP Operational Communication Center operators and dispatchers are not police officers as defined under the Police Act RSBC 1996 c 367 and are not protected by the same civil immunity that police officers themselves may be protected by; however, some provincial legislatures have established civil immunity for civilian employees of local police forces. As such, this novel duty of care may not apply in all Canadian provinces.


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