Court Addresses Whether Someone Has To Be Driving A Car In Order To Claim Benefits

Most automobile accidents involve at least one person driving a car. But that’s not always the case. A recent decision from Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice saw the court taking a look at whether or not someone has to be in their vehicle in order to have access to accident benefits.

A taxi fare turns into an assault

The case arose out of an incident where the insured, who was driving his van as a taxi, was injured after getting into an altercation with some passengers. While driving the passengers to a party, the driver and the passengers got into an argument over directions. This resulted in one of the passengers striking the driver in the head. The driver ordered the passengers out of his van, and got out of the car to shut a door when one of them failed to do so. While shutting the door the driver was pushed by one of the passengers, causing him to fall, injuring his shoulder and leg.

In addition to pursuing other remedies, the driver sought compensation from his insurer pursuant to the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule-Effective September 1, 2010 (“SABS”).The insurer contested his rights to benefits, calling out section 3(1) of the SABS, which sates “Accident means an incident in which the use or operation of an automobile directly causes an impairment or directly causes damage. (Emphasis added by the court)”

First two decisions rule in favour of the driver

A decision in support of the driver was issued by an arbitrator on April 1, 2016. The arbitrator’s decision was upheld by the Director’s Delegate of the Financial Services Commission of Ontario. The insurer was seeking Judicial Review of the Director’s Delegate’s decision on two grounds:

  1. Use of a personal vehicle for a prohibited purpose is not part of the ordinary “use or operation of an automobile” and the Insured was not covered for use of his vehicle as a taxi; and
  2.    The accident was not directly caused by the operation of a vehicle because the assault was an intervening event breaking the chain of causation, and the assault was the dominant reason for the injuries sustained.

The arbitrator found that the picking up and dropping off of passengers was part of the ordinary use and operation of the vehicle (making no mention of the use of the van as a taxi). The arbitrator also found that the operation of the automobile was a direct cause of the injuries. The Director’s Delegate agreed with the arbitrator, adding that the use of a car as a taxi is an ordinary use of an automobile.

On appeal

The court first looked at whether the accident occurred during the “use or operation of an automobile.” The test applied by the court would be whether the “ the vehicle in question is being operated in a manner that is consistent with the ordinary use and well-known activities of vehicles.” The insurer submitted that the use of a vehicle as a taxi ab is not within the “ordinary use of the vehicle.” However, the court referenced a 2007 decision from the Supreme Court of Canada in using a broader definition of “ordinary and well-known activities.” The Supreme Court wrote “someone who uses a vehicle for a non-motoring purpose cannot expect to collect motor vehicle insurance.  If, for example, a claimant got drunk and used her car as a diving platform from which to spring head first into shallow water, and broke her neck, she could not reasonably expect coverage from her motor vehicle insurer, even though, in a sense, she ‘used’ her motor vehicle.”

The court upheld the first two decisions, agreeing with the arbitrator that the driver “was driving his van in the ordinary and well-known activities to which automobiles are put.  The taxi was being used for its ordinary purpose, which was to pick up and transport passengers.”

The court turned next to whether the injuries arose out of the use of the automobile. The court acknowledged the Director’s Delegate’s point that the fact that an “injury was sustained where a vehicle was located was not enough to entitle an insured to benefits. The use or operation of the vehicle must be a direct cause of the injuries.” However, in this case the vehicle was not simply the location. The driver was injured while attempting to shut his car door. The court agreed with this train of thought in upholding the decision.

If you are involved in an automobile accident and suffer injuries as a result, it’s important to speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer once your immediate health needs have been addressed. The personal injury lawyers at Derfel Injury Law assist our clients in identifying and pursuing every potential avenue for compensation. If you would like to talk about your situation, we can be reached online or by phone at 416-847-3580.