By: Michael B. Murphy, QC, Senior Partner
This year will be the first year where all the children are not going to be back at school at the same time. However, it does not mean that we need to be less vigilant. The Courts have looked very disapprovingly on anyone travelling through school zones at a speed above even the low posted limit. By the “low posted limit” this is the limit of speed that is stated to exist when school is in.
Fines with regard to exceeding the speed limit in school zones are double the norm. Even if you travel at the existing speed limit you may be held liable if you hit a child. If you knew or ought to have known that children could be crossing the road (you know that they dart out) then you must be ever vigilant. This includes looking under cars as you drive along for feet and scanning the sidewalks. If the speed limit is 30/km and you go the full 30/km and hit a child it is more likely than not that you are still going to be held liable for this accident because you were going at the maximum allowed under ideal circumstances. Speed limits are the maximum under all ideal circumstances.
They are not simply limits that you can go to under any circumstance. For example: travelling the maximum speed limit with a carload of kids in the winter down an icy road is negligent.
The new school year may provide awkward timelines for children to come and go from school so as to allow more social distancing. Therefore, travelling through school zones will not be simply for vigilance at the usual hours of 8am to 9am and 2pm to 4pm. You may expect children to be back at school earlier and later than the past.
Claims on behalf of plaintiff children are often extremely large if the child suffers disabilities that can last throughout its life. Therefore, it is important that you have as much insurance on your vehicle as reasonably possible. Most limits of insurance now are 1 million dollars. I would suggest that you have 2 million dollars on it to protect your assets.
I mentioned above about children “darting” out. I had a case several years ago where a child was “zooming” down a driveway, across the road, and going up on a ramp on the opposite side of the road. The defendant was driving down the road at or slightly below the speed limit. It was an overcast day and visibility was clear and it was in the early autumn. So how was this driver held negligent? It is because I asked the driver what he was looking at that he did not see the child going down the driveway. There was a point where the child could be seen just before it went behind a pile of wood and then darted out into the street. He said he was looking at the child on the left-hand side of the road who was looking “at something”. In other words, the child on the left was “waiting” for something. The full policy limits were paid over to the child plaintiff.
There are ins and outs with regard to school children. You cannot expect a child to act like an adult. You, as the driver, must modify your driving vigilance/awareness to fit the circumstances of the area that you are driving through where you know or ought to know that children are.
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