Paralyzed in crash, man wins damages from Hamilton over faded stop line at rural crossing

A 2006 crash on a clear, sunny day made Michael Chiocchio quadriplegic. The city is half responsible for not repainting the stop line, a court justice found.

A 2006 crash on a clear, sunny day made Michael Chiocchio quadriplegic

This image shows Brock Road and 5th Concession West as it was in 2005. In 2012, the city added a four-way stop, but it was only a two-way stop when a collision injured Michael Chiocchio. (Google Earth)

There's a good chance Michael Chiocchio Sr. would not be a quadraplegic today if Hamilton had spent an estimated $100 repainting a stop line at a rural crossroads, according to an Ontario court.

The cost of repainting was a meager $100, at most.- Justice Antonio Skarica

An Ontario court justice has ruled the City of Hamilton and its faded stop line is half responsible for a 2006 crash that paralyzed the Haldimand man.

The city could have spent "a meager $100" to repaint a stop line at Brock Road and 5th Concession West, Justice Antonio Skarica ruled Friday. The faded line at least partially caused Richard Ellis's car to collide with a minivan carrying Michael Chiocchio Sr., making him quadriplegic at age 37. Now the city will pay "significant" damages and losses.

The actual amount is a confidential part of an agreement reached between the city, Chiocchio and Ellis.

Michael Smitiuch, Chiocchio's lawyer, told CBC News "I can say that given his injuries and ongoing needs, his losses and damages are significant."

The Flamborough intersection was already on the city's top 10 most dangerous list before the 2006 crash, the court heard. But the city still went years without repainting it, to the point where it wasn't even visible in satellite images.

"The cost of repainting was a meager $100, at most," Skarica wrote, "and there is no explanation at all as to why this stop line and the recommendations to repaint it were neglected while the city was aware of the increasing dangerousness of this intersection."

I can say that given his injuries and ongoing needs, his losses and damages are significant.- Michael Smitiuch, Chiocchio's lawyer

The ruling is "a wake-up call for the city to ensure improvements are made to dangerous intersections," said Smitiuch, in a statement to CBC News.

"I hope that what happened to Michael Chiocchio will never happen to anyone else."

The crash happened on April 29, 2006. It was a clear, sunny day. Chiocchio's girlfriend, Amy Dowling, was driving a minivan, the court heard. Their toddler, Michael Chiocchio Jr., was in the back.

Other accidents there

They were heading north on Brock Road approaching 5th Concession West, where Richard Ellis had stopped at the intersection. The car didn't seem to be moving, Chiocchio said. Watch that guy, he told Dowling.

Dowling, who had the right of way and did not have a stop sign, kept driving. Ellis — who testified he didn't see the van — pulled into the intersection. The vehicles collided, and the minivan rolled and hit a pole.

It was far from the first crash there. One man who regularly visited his girlfriend near there testified that he commonly heard the crunch of collisions. One woman said a car had taken out her porch in 1997.

But the stop line at the intersection hadn't been painted since 2004. Steve Cooper, a project manager in the city's traffic safety department, testified that stop lines typically need repainting at least once a year. But even after the crash, the next recorded painting of that stop line was 2008.

Four months after the Chiocchio collision, court heard, a city committee asked for a safety audit of the intersection, saying there had been 14 collisions there over five years. Ten were from a failure to yield or stop. Staff recommended stop bars and larger stop signs.

"Despite this carnage and despite the recognized need and recommendations of three separate city staff, this intersection was not repainted until July of 2008," Skarica wrote.

Asked if it would appeal, the city would only say that it's reviewing its options.

"The city is reviewing the decision with outside counsel, who acted on behalf of the city's insurer, to consider options," it said in a statement. "At present, the city has no further comment to make."

Skarica found the city half liable and Ellis half liable. The two will pay for damages and losses incurred by Chiocchio and his son, and his trial costs.