Woman wins civil case against police

A 30-year-old woman injured in a
collision with a police car two years ago has won a civil judgment against the
Royal Cayman Islands Police and the Attorney General.

Grand Court Justice Charles Quin,
in a ruling issued on 1 June, ordered that Police Constable Pierre St. Jacques
is responsible for “the loss, injury and damage” sustained by Latoya Barrett
“by reason of PC St. Jacques’ negligence.”

The exact amount of costs
government insurers will have to pay has not been determined.

Ms Barrett was driving west on
Crewe Road in a Toyota Yaris on 11 July, 2008, when a Chevrolet Impala driven
by Constable St. Jacques and travelling east on the same road crossed onto Ms
Barrett’s side of the road and crashed into her vehicle.

Attorneys for Ms Barrett claimed
the accident was the result of negligence on the part of the constable, who
they said was driving too fast and failed to keep a proper look out on the road.

Constable St. Jacques denied
negligence, maintaining that the accident was an “agony-of-the-moment
situation” brought on when he was forced to swerve on to the wrong side of the
road to avoid hitting a cyclist.

According to Ms Barrett’s evidence,
she was on her way to George Town about 3.25am in the left-hand lane,
travelling about 20-30 mph. She said she was wearing her seat belt and that the
road was clear. She also stated that there was good visibility and that her
headlights were on.

Upon reaching the vicinity of
Tropical Gardens, Rosedale apartments, Ms Barrett testified that she heard the
screeching of car tyres, a sound she imitated on the witness stand.

She said when she saw the police
car coming toward her sideways, on her side of the road, she hit her brakes and
pulled to the left, but the front of her car collided with the side of the
police car.

Ms Barrett said Constable St.
Jacques got out of his car and came over to ask if she was OK. She testified
that the officer first said he did not know what happened, then said he lost
control of the vehicle, and added that he thought he saw a “bicycle man”. Ms
Barrett said she did not see anyone riding a bike on the road.

Constable St. Jacques began his
testimony by stating that he was a traffic officer with notable periods of
specialised driver training, on and off a specialised track. He also had driver
training when he arrived in the Cayman Islands. Before his appointment with the
RCIPS, he was a police officer in Quebec, Canada, for 10 years.

In his description of events,
Constable St. Jacques said at the moment he began to negotiate the curve near
Rosedale apartments, he saw a cyclist coming from the right side of the road,
heading to his left. He said the cyclist was “straight in front” of him and that
the curve had made it impossible to see him before, adding that since he and
the cyclist were travelling left, he was forced to go right to avoid hitting
the person.

He said when he saw Ms Barrett’s
car, he turned even harder right. The constable said he was driving about 25-30
mph, not any faster, and certainly not 53 mph, which is close to the “critical
speed” of the corner. The constable added that he was travelling at a perfect
speed to negotiate the bend, but the second vehicle proved “too much for him to
handle”, even at 30 mph.

Expert testimony by Jeffrey
Armstrong for Ms Barrett and Pierre Bellemare for the defence was in agreement
on several things, including the length and radius of the curve, the banking of
the road, and the width of each lane.

However, other evidence was not as
clear cut, particularly concerning tyre marks left in the road by the
constable’s car and whether those showed that the car had “yawed” since the
police car was travelling in excess of the speed required to negotiate the
corner without problems.

Rear tires of a car normally track
outside the front wheels, but in a yaw the opposite occurs.

Mr. Bellemare concluded that the
officer was not travelling faster than the “critical speed” of the bend, but
Mr. Armstrong disputed this, saying the marks clearly showed that the constable
had been driving faster than the critical speed at which the corner could be
negotiated. He said the marks were consistent with being out of control, and if
the officer were travelling at a reasonable speed, he would have had more than
enough time to correct this.

In his ruling, Justice Quin
concluded that there was no cyclist on the road at the time of the accident,
further supported by Constable St. Jacques’ remarks to Ms Barrett that he did
not know how the accident happened and that he admitted losing control of his
car.

Justice Quin found that Constable
St. Jacques “was travelling far in excess of the speed limit — somewhere
between 48 and 58mph and was not in control of his vehicle.”

Accordingly, the judge said, he
found the constable guilty of negligence “in, and about, the management and
driving of the Chevrolet police car”.

Ms Barrett was represented by
Richard Lynagh QC and Christopher McDuff of Thorp Alberga. Constable St.
Jacques’ attorney was Kirsten Houghton of Campbells.

In May Daniel Bennet won a lawsuit
against the Cayman Islands Attorney General and Cayman Islands Government in connection
with an incident in December 2003, in which his motorcycle collided with a
police car during a chase, leaving the then 15-year-old with a severely injured
leg and broken ribs. He was awarded $40,000 as an interim payment while the
full amount of damages was being determined.

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