FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — A man was awarded $6.1 million after a B.C. Supreme Court judge found he was not the driver of a Ford F250 truck involved in a 2019 incident on Old Fort Road that left him paralyzed.
Justice Sheila Tucker handed down the ruling on Monday concerning the single-vehicle incident, which occurred on March 22nd of 2019.
In her ruling, Tucker noted the case didn’t hinge on liability but instead on who was driving the vehicle, as the two parties involved claimed the other was behind the wheel at the time of the incident.
According to court documents, Cody Somers, who was 29 years old at the time, was drinking Palm Bays and working on his dirtbike on the night of the incident when he invited his friend Richard MacLellan over to see the new house he was renting.
After the tour, the pair decided to go to town. The reason for the trip varies, with Somers claiming the trip was to pick something up for MacLellan’s partner and MacLellan alleging Somers wanted to go into town to buy cocaine.
Justice Tucker found the motivation behind the trip was to purchase more alcohol.
“I find that they made a plan to spend the night drinking at the House. It makes sense that they would have discussed how they would spend the evening shortly after Mr. MacLellan arrived,” Tucker wrote in her ruling.
She said the alcohol Somers bought on his way home from work on the night of the incident had already been consumed by the time MacLellan arrived at the house, so the pair agreeing to get more alcohol would likely have been part of the plan.
“The existence of such a plan is consistent with the significant volume of alcohol they bought at the liquor store and the fact that they were headed back toward the house at the time of the accident,” wrote Tucker.
Somers said he climbed into the passenger seat of MacLellan’s mother’s truck before they left the liquor store—MacLellan’s own vehicle had been written off in a single-vehicle incident in December 2018. Somers admits he didn’t put on a seatbelt.
On the drive back, Somers teased MacLellan about driving his mother’s vehicle. In response, MacLellan allegedly pushed the gas pedal to the floor, causing Somer’s phone to fall on the floor.
Somers stated when he bent over to pick up his phone, he noticed the speedometer was at 140 km/hr, prompting him to ask MacLellan if that was all the power the truck had, to which MacLellan said yes, according to court documents.
A few kilometres later, Somers said MacLellan let out a startled “roar” and lost control of the Ford.
Somers was ejected from the eastbound truck’s open front passenger side window after the Ford crossed into the westbound lane and went into the ditch. The pick-up then rolled “at least once” and stopped, landing upright.
A passing car eventually stopped and contacted 9-1-1. Paramedics arrived on scene before RCMP and found Somers lying face up in the ditch with his feet closest to the truck. Once at the scene, RCMP officers found multiple containers of alcohol, some open and empty. Constable Dreyer with the Fort St. John RCMP noted that MacLellan had “watery eyes and smelled of alcohol.”
MacLellan admits to being intoxicated on the night of the incident.
Somers was brought to Fort St. John Hospital, where he was intubated and put on a ventilator before being air-lifted to Vancouver General Hospital.
MacLellan suffered minor injuries, but Somers suffered a severe spinal cord injury, leaving him unable to use his legs.
Justice Tucker found MacLellan was the driver of the Ford on the night of the incident, based on the evidence presented at the trial, including mud splotches found on the left side of MacLellan, which were also found on the left side of the truck, but not on the right.
“Mud splotches on the left-hand side of Mr. MacLellan’s clothing are consistent with there being no one between Mr. MacLellan and the driver side windows when the driver side hit the ditch,” Tucker wrote.
“I do not accept evidence that these splotches could have occurred while climbing out of the Ford, as the splatter pattern indicates flying mud. That said, I put relatively little weight on this consideration, as it is simply a matter of consistency,” the judge added.
Tucker also found Somers was “contributorily negligent” because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt at the time of the incident and assigned him with 25 per cent liability.
Somers was awarded a total of $6,107,691, which includes $3,193,083 in past and future lost wages and $439,000 in non-pecuniary damages.
He was also awarded $35,000 worth of in-trust funds for his family, with his mother entitled to $30,000 and $5,000 going to his brother.