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When is an Accident not an Accident?

In Martin v. 2064324 Ont. Ltd. (Freeze Night Club), the Court of Appeal (CA) revisited to the issue of the entitlement of an injured party to no-fault statutory accident benefits from his automobile insurer.

Briefly, Mr.  Martin was leaving his work that was adjacent to a night club upon which, while entering his car; he was attacked by two unknown assailants. Following this, he claimed loss of income and suffering of ongoing injuries as a result of the assault and claimed for indemnity under Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule – Accidents on or after November 1, 1996 to the Insurance Act (SABS) under the coverage provisions of his auto insurance policy. Following a denial of this claim by Certas, Mr. Martin took action against them.

Mr. Martin was successful and Certas appealed. The appeal centred on the meaning of “accident” within the context of section 2(1) of the SABS and on the interpretation of “directly or indirectly from the use or operation of… his automobile” within the meaning of section 239(1)(a) of the Insurance Act .

Speaking for the court of appeal, Cronk JA found that the motion judge had improperly interpreted the meaning of “accident” within the aforementioned Act and that the test recently espoused in Amos  was incorrectly applied. Justice Cronk indicated that the more appropriate test should have been the modified causation test outlined in Chisolm ; and indicated that the following questions should be asked:

  1. Was there a causal link between the use of the automobile and the injuries?
  2. If there was a causal link, was there an intervening act or intervening acts that breaks the chain of causation that resulted in the injuries that is not outside of the “ordinary course of things”?
  3. Can it be said that the use or operation of the vehicle was a “direct cause” of the injuries?

Under the first branch of the test, it was found to be neither the normal use nor operation of his car that caused his injuries; Cronk JA found that Mr. Martin’s claim had to fail. With respect to the second branch of the modified causation test, Cronk JA held that the motion judge failed to determine whether an intervening act or acts, not part of the “ordinary course of things” caused injuries. The court held that the use or operation of Mr. Martin’s vehicle could not be said to have caused his injuries. The assaults, “which were distinct acts independent from the use or operation of his vehicle” caused them. He thus made clear that “it is not simply enough to show that his automobile was somehow involved in the incident that led to the injury; rather he had to show that it was the substantive cause”.

Further, on the issue of the indemnity claim, Cronk JA found that for Certas to be liable, Mr. Martin must show that his injuries arose “directly or indirectly from the use or operation of his automobile”. To do this, it was imperative to show that there must be an unbroken chain of causation linking his injuries to the use or operation of automobiles. Cronk JA held that this had not been established and dismissed Mr. Martin’s indemnity claim, except as it related to injuries suffered to his right leg as a result of the car running over it.

Thus, in dismissing the appeal in part, the CA tightened the law as it relates to the definition of “accident” and “directly or indirectly” with respect to SABS and indemnification claims. It is not sufficient to merely claim that an automobile was involved in an accident; rather it is not imperative to show that the automobile was engaged in “normal use and activity” was the substantial cause of the injury, and the chain of causation remained unbroken.