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AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE - Accident benefits - Definitions

Thursday, December 12, 2019 @ 6:30 AM  

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Appeal by B from a decision dismissing his claim for statutory accident benefits (SABs). Appeal by P’s insurer from a decision finding that P was entitled to SABs. The issue in each case was whether a dirt bike and an ATV fell within any enlarged definition of automobile in a relevant statute. In neither incident was the off-road vehicle being driven on land that was occupied by the owner of the vehicle or in a sponsored rally. B was injured in BC while a passenger in an ATV. He was the named insured under an Ontario automobile policy which did not list an ATV as an insured vehicle. The arbitrator accepted the insurer’s position that because the accident occurred in BC, the question of whether an ATV constituted an automobile for Ontario accident benefit purposes was to be determined under the laws of BC which did not require ATVs to be insured as motor vehicles. The Divisional Court concluded that the decision that the relevant legislation to consider was BC legislation and the ATV did not therefore fall within the definition of an automobile for the purpose of the SABs, was reasonable. P was injured while riding his dirt bike on a closed track at a sports resort in the US. He was insured under an Ontario automobile policy. The insurer denied the claim on the basis that the dirt bike was not an automobile, and therefore the incident was not an accident under the SABs Regulation 403/96. The motion judge accepted that had the accident occurred in Ontario, P would have been entitled to receive accident benefits. She exercised her discretion to apply the lex fori, the law of Ontario, rather than the lex loci delicti, the law of Georgia.

HELD: Insurer’s appeal dismissed. B’s appeal allowed. Ontario law governed. The provisions that dictated the result for Ontario incidents dictated the same result for incidents that took place outside Ontario and were covered under the automobile insurance policy. Section 224(1) of the Insurance Act contained a direction to examine other Ontario statutes to determine whether a particular motor vehicle came within the expanded definition of “automobile” by requiring that motor vehicle to be insured. Therefore, it was an error to look to a statute of another jurisdiction or to see if there was a statute in that jurisdiction that required insurance. The expanded definition must be found in an Ontario Act. The Off-Road Vehicles Act and Regulation contained no language that limited that definition to off-road vehicles driven in Ontario. The provisions of the Insurance Act, the SABs Regulations, and the contract language all stated that the SABs would be provided whether the incident occurred anywhere in Canada, the US or the other designated jurisdictions. By applying the same definition of automobile no matter where the incident occurred, the same insurer would be called on to pay the benefits. There was no unfairness among insurers arising from this result. There could be only one reasonable interpretation of the statutory language regarding the extended definition of “automobile.” The language was not unclear or ambiguous. The Arbitrator in B’s case proceeded on a legal misapprehension that the lex loci delicti should be applied to a contract and statutory interpretation issue involving an Ontario contract and Ontario legislation where that legislation specifically directed that Ontario law was to apply.

Benson v. Belair Insurance Co., [2019] O.J. No. 5437, Ontario Court of Appeal, K.N. Feldman, J.C. MacPherson and J.M. Simmons JJ.A., October 25, 2019. Digest No. TLD-December92019011