The City of Ottawa has been ordered to pay $2.3 million in damages after a judge found an OC Transpo driver partially liable in a 2008 collision that killed three Carleton University students.

Vanessa Crawford, Brianne Deschamps and Mark MacDonald were killed on Jan. 23, 2008, when the SUV they were riding in ran a red light and collided with an OC Transpo bus at the intersection of Heron Road and Riverside Drive.

Two other students in the SUV were injured, while the bus driver and his lone passenger were not seriously hurt.

The finding of partial fault was made when a nine-day trial involving two lawsuits wrapped up earlier this week, city solicitor Rick O'Connor said in a memo to city council Friday.

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Vanessa Crawford, left, and Brianne Deschamps, right, were two of the three Carleton University students killed in a 2008 crash involving an OC Transpo bus. (Family of Brianne Deschamps)

The five students had been singing karaoke at campus bar Mike's Place on the night of the crash.

According to court documents, the SUV was heading west on Heron Road when it crossed through a red light and hit the northbound OC Transpo bus.

O'Connor's statement noted that MacDonald, who was behind the wheel, had a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit for a fully licensed driver.

He was also driving with a G2 license, meaning he was prohibited from having any alcohol in his system, said O'Connor.

In her ruling, however, Justice Toscamo Roccamo found that the OC Transpo driver, Raymond Richer, was travelling 5.6 km/hr over the 60 km/hr speed limit about 180 metres south of the intersection where the crash happened.

Richer also briefly looked away from the road prior to the crash and failed to "adjust his driving to account for weather and road conditions," wrote Roccamo. 

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An image from the January 2008 collision that killed three Carleton University students. (CBC)

As a result, Roccamo ruled that MacDonald was 80 per cent at fault and the city 20 per cent at fault for the fatal crash.

"In determining as I have that this tragic accident is causally linked to Mr. Richer's negligence, it bears repeating that Mr. MacDonald was primarily responsible for the carnage that resulted," Roccamo said.

Payout not 'proportionate,' says city

The lawsuits were filed by one of the injured passengers and by the family of one of the students who died in the crash.

Because of the insurance policies of the people involved in the collision, the $2.3-million payout is "not an amount that is proportionate to [the city's] actual liability," said O'Connor.

"This is due to the application of the principle of joint and several liability, as well as the interplay between the various automobile insurance policies held by the SUV owner and passengers," wrote O'Connor. 

The city will consider the possibility of an appeal, O'Connor said.