LAT Rejects Benefits Claim Involving Spilled Beverage

When does an injury suffered in a motor vehicle not count as a motor vehicle accident? That was the question at the centre of M.P. vs. Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, a recently resolved accident benefits dispute. The case provides additional context for car accident lawyers involved in non-traditional accident benefits claims.

The Facts of the Case

According to a June report from Law Times, the applicant in the case purchased a cup of hot tea at a fast food drive through window. She left the restaurant, stopped at a red light, and noticed that the lid wasn’t secured. She picked up the tea from its tray on the passenger’s seat, attempted to secure the lid, and then spilled the tea as she attempted to place it in the automobile’s cup holder. She filed for benefits under Ontario’s Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS).

The plaintiff’s insurance provider, Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, argued that the plaintiff was not eligible for accident benefits as her injuries were unrelated to the normal use of an automobile. Instead, Allstate suggested the fast food employee who handed the plaintiff the tea may have been negligent. The plaintiff herself may also have contributed to her injuries.

Background: What are Statutory Accident Benefits?

Most auto insurance policies in Ontario guarantee benefits for injuries in motor vehicle accidents, regardless of who is at fault. The amount of benefits depends on the severity of the injuries and are applied based on the province’s SABS.

Some of the benefits available under the SABS include income replacement benefits, non-earner benefits, benefits to cover the costs of attendant care, medical care, and rehabilitation, death and funeral benefits, and more.

When an insurance policy holder and an insurance provider do not agree on the amount of benefits being provided, they may seek a resolution from Ontario’s Licence Appeals Tribunal.

Background: What is the Licence Appeals Tribunal?

According to its website, the Licence Appeals Tribunal (LAT) is “an independent, quasi-judicial agency and is one of five tribunals in the Safety, Licensing Appeals and Standards Tribunals Ontario (SLASTO) cluster.”

The LAT contains two divisions: General Service and Automobile Accident Benefits Service (AABS). The latter’s mandate is to “resolve disputes about an insured person’s entitlement to, or amount of, statutory motor vehicle accident benefits.”

What Did the LAT Decide?

The LAT agreed with Allstate’s assertion that the plaintiff’s injuries were unrelated to the normal operation of a motor vehicle, and decided that the plaintiff was not entitled to accident benefits.

“Nothing about the vehicle caused her to spill the tea,” wrote tribunal adjudicator Therese Reilly. “The fact that she was in a vehicle was simply incidental.”

In coming to this decision, the LAT examined Dittmann v Aviva Insurance Company of Canada, a 2016 case that also involved a spilled beverage and a drive through window. In that case, the plaintiff was injured when a hot coffee was spilled as it was passed from the window into the automobile. The LAT decided in the plaintiff’s favour, reasoning that she would not have been at the drive through window if she had not been in an automobile, and she would not have been injured if she were not wearing a seatbelt. Importantly, no intervening events took place between accepting the drink and the injury.

The LAT also applied two tests to determine the automobile’s involvement in M.P.’s injuries. The first was the ‘purpose test,’ which asks whether the injury resulted from the ordinary use of the vehicle. The second, the ‘direct causation test,’ asked whether use or operation of the vehicle caused the injuries.

While the LAT’s decision was not in favour of the plaintiff in M.P. vs. Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, it also helps to clarify the ruling in Dittmann v Aviva Insurance Company of Canada and provide added context for car accident lawyers interested in pursuing similar cases.

Contact Will Davidson LLP to discuss your claim

If you’ve been injured in an automobile accident, contact Will Davidson LLP’s car accident lawyers to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced team can help you access the fair and reasonable compensation you deserve.

Will Davidson LLP’s car accident lawyers work on a contingency basis, meaning we will not charge hourly or up-front legal fees for our services. Instead, our team will accept a percentage of the final settlement as payment. This approach allows us to offer access to justice to every Ontarian in need, regardless of their financial circumstances.

With decades of experience in every manner of personal injury claim, Will Davidson LLP is a strong, reputable ally for injured Ontarians. Contact us today to learn more about how our experienced team can help.

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Ontario Grapples with Growing Trial Backlog Amid COVID-19

As the country gradually rolls back COVID-19 lockdown measures, court systems across Canada are considering how to safely reopen their doors. In Ontario, where courts already faced a significant backlog, there have been no jury trials and limited judge-only trials since a state of emergency was declared in March. As a result, numerous personal injury lawyers and their clients are facing delays on the road to compensation.

The province is considering a number of options to alleviate the backlog, including the suspension or elimination of jury trials for certain civil proceedings. In early June, Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey sought input from legal stakeholders on this matter.

“The needs of the justice sector have changed during this outbreak, and the demands on the system will continue to evolve as we begin to see the province reopening in stages,” the Attorney General wrote in a letter to stakeholders. “To address these changes, we will continue to act on the guidance of public health experts, and we will continue to work together to develop new ways of conducting matters.”

Assembling a jury is one of the most time-consuming aspects of any civil trial. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will make the process even more difficult. Proponents of eliminating or suspending jury trials say it would allow Ontario to work through its backlog more quickly and provide greater access to justice for a larger number of claimants.

The proposal has support among some personal injury lawyers. One Windsor-based law firm issued a statement reading:

“Although we truly value our clients’ right to have a jury of peers decide their case, the realities of COVID-19 mean that our clients will suffer many more years of delay to get their cases to court. COVID-19 has closed our courts to jury trials. Eliminating juries will avoid more delay because we can immediately try cases ‘online/remotely’ before a single judge.”

In his letter, the Attorney General proposed keeping juries for matters that “engage community values and person’s character, such as defamation false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.”

The Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA) also supports a temporary jury trial suspension. In an open letter to the Attorney General’s office, it stated that “the biggest hurdle for many of the postponed and upcoming trials will be constituting juries.”

Steve Rastin, a former president of the OTLA, spoke glowingly of Downey’s letter to Canadian Lawyer.

“I think it’s bold, I think it’s appropriate,” he said. “I think what the attorney general is doing is giving some thought to how are we going to deal with the massive backlog that’s in the system right now.”

“The attorney general is showing inspired leadership. What he’s doing is looking at a fundamental change in our system to help maybe put Ontario back together and back on track in terms of access to justice.”

Rastin’s enthusiasm isn’t shared by all. The Toronto Lawyers Association (TLA) stated in a submission to the Attorney General that jury trials are essential in Ontario due to the province’s unique social makeup.

“Against this social backdrop, civil juries provide a vast array of life experiences including different socioeconomic, racial, cultural and gender-based perspectives,” wrote TLA President Brett Harrison.

There is also concern that eliminating jury trials is an inappropriate solution to an issue that could be solved through modernization and investment. As one Toronto personal injury lawyer asked CTV News: “People keep talking about how it’s too slow and it’s an access to justice issue, but what about devoting the resources they should have done in the first place?”

“There should have been more resources thrown at the judicial system well before this, and I think it’s just convenient now to use the pandemic as an excuse to eliminate or get rid of juries,” they continued.  

Even Steve Rastin agrees that Ontario’s court system is falling behind on implementing new technology.

“[What] we’ve realized is that our jurisdiction has not gone nearly as far down the road to modernization as some other jurisdictions in the world,” he said. “In the United States, they’re doing virtual motions, virtual trials, virtual appeals, they have widespread access to court records electronically and things like that.”

The province has several options to address its growing trial backlog. It can eliminate civil jury trials altogether, it can reduce or suspend jury trials, it can bring in new technology to allow trials to proceed remotely, or it can choose another path. Regardless of the decision, it must be made quickly: the province’s backlog is growing every day and preventing seriously injured accident victims from accessing the compensation they need.

If you’ve been injured in an accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced team of personal injury lawyers will assess your case and lay out your options for pursuing a claim. Contact us today to learn more.

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