Your Vehicle, Your Responsibility

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People do it all the time, as teenagers or even as adults. At some point in time, we or someone have driven a vehicle without permission, or with permission but without regard for any instructions that may have been given along with the responsibility of said vehicle. It is an easy choice to make because no one thinks of accidents that may happen while behind the wheel, especially if we are extra careful.

Case example

Here, we look at yet another case where ownership and liability intertwine.

In May of 2007, a group of friends and relatives converged on Mr. Almeida Jr's farm. He was there initially with his cousin (Jean Paul Almeida) and his cousin's girlfriend (Ms. Araujo) with the intention of fixing a fence. On his farm he had an ATV which was registered to his father but insured under his name. For all intents and purposes, the vehicle was his.

On the day in question, the ATV was being used on the farm to transport equipment necessary to fix the fence. When not in use, the vehicle was left in the garage with the key in it.

Mr. Almeida Jr at some point told Ms. Araujo that she could drive the ATV on the property. He did not inquire about the status of her licence.

Her boyfriend Jean Paul showed her how to drive the ATV and told her to stay on the property in the presence of Mr. Almeida Jr. Ms. Fernandes (the girlfriend of another Almeida cousin) who was present at the time also drove the vehicle on the property. She did not have a driver's licence. Mr. Almeida Jr. also saw her driving on his property.

Later that day, the two women decided to drive to a cousin's nearby farm. They did not inform anyone of their decision and Mr. Almeida Jr. was unaware that they left his property.

With Ms. Fernandes at the wheel, they drove on the public road to get to the other farm and arrived safely. On the way back, they switched positions, now with Ms. Araujo at the wheel. Sadly, on the way back on the public access road, the vehicle flipped and the passenger (Ms. Fernandes) was seriously injured.

In November of 2009, Ms. Araujo entered a third party claim against Mr. Almeida Jr.'s insurance company (Allstate Insurance Company of Canada). The insurance company tendered a summary judgement request in this case claiming that they should not be held liable.

Their reasons are stated below:

  • The driver of the vehicle did not have the permission or the required licence to operate the vehicle.
  • Their client Mr. Almeida Jr. should not be covered as he allowed Ms. Araujo to drive the vehicle without the legal documentation.

Citing the Highway Traffic Act, the driver of a vehicle as well as the owner of a vehicle can be held liable when a person has negligently caused an accident. The owner will not be held responsible if the vehicle was being driven without his/her consent. It is up to the owner to prove the non-consent.

Vicarious liability is a topic we have discussed in "previous articles." It is a very common and prevalent issue in personal injury cases where as in this case, the owner of the vehicle is being held liable by the driver of his vehicle.

Possession and operation are tied to the owner's responsibility for his/her vehicle. The Highway Act imposes this rule to ensure public safety; in an effort to keep vehicle owners aware and more careful of their decisions to allow the use of their vehicles by others. It was seen that his actions of leaving the keys in the vehicle and him noticing her driving the vehicle on his property, gave way to implied consent.

Any limitations he or anyone else may have given her at that time did not guarantee that he would not be held liable. That matter could only be argued and resolved in court.

The Judge dismissed the insurance company's motion for a summary judgement in relation to their client being held liable but granted their motion connected to the third party liability request (dismissing Ms. Araujo's vicarious liability claim against them).

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