In M.P. vs. Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, 2020 ONLAT 18-012641/AABS, Adjudicator Therese Reilly shows the importance of there being a direct causal link between the actions of the motorist and the injuries sustained. The facts involved the applicant ordering hot tea at a drive-through window. After acquiring her beverage in a tray and placing it on the passenger seat, she drove away and later realized that the lid had not been properly placed on her cup. Stopped at a red light, the applicant grabbed her tea to fix the lid but instead spilt it on herself. The main issue became whether the applicant’s impairments were caused by an “accident” as defined by section 3(1) of the SABS. The respondent alleged that the fast food employee incorrectly placing the lid on the cup and the applicant’s attempt to secure it are intervening acts that keep the impairments from being caused directly by the use or operation of a motor vehicle. The applicant submitted that her injuries resulted from the ordinary use of her vehicle without any intervening acts.

The applicant argued that her facts were similar to those found in Dittmann v Aviva Insurance Company of Canada, 2016 ONSC 6429. In Dittmann, the plaintiff drove up to a drive-through window and ordered a coffee. After being handed the beverage, it spilled on her as she was transferring it across her body to a cup holder. Justice Gordon found that the plaintiff’s injuries arose because of an “accident” as defined in section 3(1) of the SABS. The plaintiff’s use of her vehicle directly caused her injuries. But for the use of her car, she would not have spilled the coffee on herself.  Justice Gordon investigated whether there were any intervening acts that may have broken the chain of causation between operating the vehicle and the Plaintiff’s injuries. He concluded that going to the drive-through window and inadvertently spilling the drink was a “normal incident of the risk created by the use of the car”. It is part of the “ordinary course of things”. The Court of Appeal upheld Justice Gordon’s judgment.

Despite apparent similarities, Adjudicator Reilly distinguished Dittmann from M.P. Dittmann made no mention of the lid not being secure, which Adjudicator Reilly found to be a cause of the impairment. Further, it was not necessary for the applicant to move the cup to secure the lid; unlike how it was necessary for the plaintiff in Dittmann to transfer the cup to the cup holder. The faulty lid and the moving of the cup were intervening acts that broke the chain of causation between operating the vehicle and the injuries. The fact that the applicant was in her car was incidental to the true cause of her injuries. The spill could not be said to have occurred during the “ordinary course of things”.

Adjudicator Reilly underlined the importance of there being a strong causal link between the applicant’s injuries and operating of the car. An “accident” must be the result of an action that is inherent to operating a vehicle. Dittmann found that the spill was an “accident” because the plaintiff was constrained in her actions by being in her car. Operating the car thus had a clear, direct impact on what happened to the plaintiff. In M.P., the car had no active role in the spill, acting only as a backdrop. Adjudicator Reilly’s decision lines up with the Supreme Court’s in Citadel General Assurance Co. v Vytingam, which stated that “there must be a direct chain of causation linking the conduct of the motorist as a motorist to the injuries”. Simply being behind the wheel waiting for the light to change is not sufficient. There must be active participation and engagement in the act of driving. Any intervening act that interrupts this direct link, even one as incidental as grabbing something from the passenger seat, can sever the causation link and take the driver out of the car.

Yann Grand-Clement is the author of this blog and member of the Licence Appeal Tribunal practice group. To learn more about this decision or to discuss a similar file please contact Yann at 416-777-5248