Kajat v. The "Arctic Taglu"

In Collisions and Ships on (Updated )

This was an appeal from a judgement of the Trial Division in which the Defendants were found 85% at fault for a collision between the fishing vessel "Bona Vista" and a tug-barge combination operated by one of the Defendants. A critical determination made by the Trial Judge was that the accident occurred because of the use of a search light on the tug to warn mariners of the existence of the barge by panning the light up and down the port side of the barge . She found that this was perceived by those on board the "Bona Vista" as a signal of an unseen danger to the port side of the barge causing the "Bona Vista" to turn to port, a manoeuver which resulted in the collision. Her conclusions were based on the evidence of two mariners who each testified that they had encountered the tug-barge combination and that they had interpreted the panning search light as a signal of danger to the port side of the barge and turned to port to avoid the unseen danger. The Defendants argued that the Trial judge erred in allowing the evidence of these two mariners. The Federal Court of Appeal agreed. The court held that the Trial Judge had an obligation to determine whether the similar fact evidence was logically probative, i.e. whether it is logically relevant to determining the matter in issue. The court was unable to conclude from the record whether the Trial Judge had made a specific determination to that effect and, therefore, allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial. (It is noteworthy that the Court of Appeal did not determine that the evidence of the two mariners should not have been admitted by the Trial Judge. The court merely determined that the Trial Judge had not specifically addressed her mind to the appropriate test to be applied before admitting similar fact evidence.)