Is A Passenger Who Grabs The Wheel Covered By A Driver’s Insurance Plan?

Unexpected events can happen to anyone when operating a motor vehicle. No matter how good a driver you may be, the actions of third parties may put yourself and others at risk of being injured in an automobile accident. Automobile insurance is in place to help victims of accidents in their recovery, but disputes can often arise over liability. Take for example a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that saw two insurance companies arguing over which policy should preside when a passenger grabbed the wheel of a car, causing an accident.

The accident

The defendant was driving her car with her boyfriend in the passenger seat on August 29, 2013. The two were arguing, and the defendant testified that something had angered her boyfriend, who without warning grabbed the steering wheel of the car, causing the defendant to lose control and collide with a car in which the plaintiff was a passenger.

The boyfriend fled the scene of the accident, but was eventually arrested. He pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing bodily harm and failing to remain at the scene of the accident.

The defendant had a standard automobile policy provided by State Farm. She was the sole listed driver, but the policy did provide her with third-party liability coverage. The plaintiff was insured by TD through a policy providing for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (“UIM”).

The positions of the insurance companies

State Farm, acting on behalf of the defendant, brought a motion for summary judgment, arguing there was no genuine issue requiring a trial. It was their position that the defendant was not liable, and that if they are successful on those grounds, they also argued the boyfriend was not covered by her insurance. If State Farm was to be successful on both grounds, it would leave the plaintiff covered by the TD UIM plan.
TD, meanwhile, opposed both motions. It argued there should be no summary judgment since State Farm was acting in bad faith and contrary to the defendant’s best interests.  They also argued there were genuine issues requiring a trial. Finally, TD stated it was premature to determine whether the boyfriend was not covered by the State Farm insurance plan.

Was the boyfriend covered by the defendant’s insurance?

After determining the issue was appropriate for summary judgment the court turned to the matter of whether the defendant’s boyfriend was covered by her insurance plan. The court found the boyfriend to have grabbed the steering wheel without the defendant’s consent. This led the court to what it described as an “inevitable conclusion” that he could not therefore be covered by the defendant’s insurance. TD had cited a 2009 decision from the same court that found a driver and a passenger of a car had control at the same time when the passenger grabbed control. However, the court pointed out that the 2009 decision also found both the driver and the passenger to not have been driving with consent. The case ultimately hurt TD’s argument rather than help it.

The court ruled against TD, holding that as the plaintiff’s UIM insurer, it was their policy which would cover the plaintiff. The court awarded costs of $50,000 against TD.

You may be contacted by your insurance company shortly after being involved in an automobile accident. They may aggressively pursue statement and documentation from you. However, insurance companies and adjusters may be taking advantage of your situation. That is why it is critically important to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer before talking to anyone other parties. At Derfel Injury Law we work tirelessly to achieve the best possible outcomes for our clients following a car, or other type of accident. Please call us at 416.847.3580 or reach us online to discuss your situation today.