City of Ottawa appeals $2.3M award in drunk-driving crash that killed 3 Carleton students

The City of Ottawa is appealing a judge's decision awarding $2.3 million to two plaintiffs involved in a 2008 crash between an SUV and an OC Transpo bus that left three Carleton University students dead.

Judge made 'palpable errors' in ruling, city solicitor tells councillors

The City of Ottawa lost an appeal of a judge's decision awarding $2.3 million to two plaintiffs involved in a 2008 crash between an SUV and an OC Transpo bus that left three Carleton University students dead. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

The City of Ottawa is appealing a judge's decision awarding $2.3 million to two plaintiffs involved in a 2008 drunk-driving crash between an SUV and an OC Transpo bus that left three Carleton University students dead.

Vanessa Crawford, Brianne Deschamps and Mark MacDonald were killed on Jan. 23, 2008, when their SUV 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.

In a decision rendered Jan. 29, a judge found the OC Transpo driver was partially at fault in the collision.

'Palpable errors'

In a memo to the mayor and city councillors today, the city's clerk and solicitor, Rick O'Connor, said his office has carefully reviewed the judgement and determined the trial court made "overriding and palpable errors" in reaching its decision.

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) (Family of Brianne Deschamps)

Particularly troubling, O'Connor said:

  • The court's imposition of what appears to be "a new higher standard for public transit drivers"
  • The court's failure to consider earlier cases absolving drivers who had the clear right of way when another driver failed to stop at an intersection
  • The court's finding that the city was 20 per cent liable in the collision, despite the fact that the driver of the SUV was intoxicated

O'Connor said because of those concerns, and others, the city and its insurer filed a notice of appeal on Wednesday. 

The five students had been singing karaoke at Mike's Place, one Carleton University's campus bars, on the night of the crash.

Bus driver found speeding

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.

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 licence, meaning he was prohibited from having any alcohol in his system.

In her ruling, however, Justice Giovanna Toscano 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. 

City 20 per cent at fault

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.

Ottawa Paramedic Service team leader Stéphane Gareau said the driver's side of the SUV 'was encroached inside the cab of the vehicle by a good two to three feet.' (CBC)

"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.

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," O'Connor wrote after the decision.

"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 on Jan. 29. 

The appeal will likely be heard in the fall, O'Connor told members of city council today.

While the matter is before the appeal court, the judgement requiring the city to pay the plaintiffs damages, interest and legal costs will be stayed.