Injury Lawyers Since 1984

When is a Passenger Liable for Car Accident Injuries

Oct 23, 2020 | Car Accidents

Moussa Sabzehghabaei

Personal Injury Lawyer

In this section, we will go over some recent jurisprudence that involved passenger negligence. We will look at some of the special circumstances that may result in a passenger being held liable for injuries sustained following a motor vehicle accident. This article will provide an outline of some of the decisions that have been brought before the Courts in regards to this unique issue.

When is a Passenger Liable for Car Accident Injuries?

Most motor vehicle accidents occur primarily due to negligent drivers. Common issues such as distracted driving, speeding, failure to slow down or stop properly, fatigue, general disregard for the rules of the road, and impaired driving are known to contribute to many accidents on Ontario roads. However, there are some cases where the passenger can be held fully or partially liable for the collision. Injured victims can then consider filing a claim against the passenger.

The McKay v.Park (2019) Case

The McKay v. Park case is a good example of a lawsuit filed against a passenger. The defendant driver, Park, sought to have the plaintiff McKay’s injury lawsuit dismissed as against her, on the grounds that the passenger was entirely responsible for the motor vehicle accident. Their lawyers argued that they were having an argument and the passenger and co-defendant, Giancarlo Hnatiuk, then reached to grab the steering wheel from the driver, Park, causing their vehicle to collide with another vehicle. The driver of the second vehicle ultimately sustained serious injury, and as a Plaintiff, filed a personal injury lawsuit as against both the driver Park and the passenger Hnatiuk.

The defendant driver, Park, then filed a motion requesting that the claim against her be dismissed with costs against the Plaintiff, and successfully argued that her co-defendant, Mr. Hnatiuk wasn’t covered under her car’s insurance policy under the doctrine of vicarious liability. The concept of vicarious liability is essentially where owners of vehicles may generally be found liable for the negligent actions of its operators. However, the Ontario Court of Appeal found that Park could not be held vicariously liable since the passenger Hnatiuk seized control of the vehicle from her, by wrestling the steering wheel away. As a result, Park’s auto insurer was not held liable to respond on behalf of the passenger Hnatiuk.

The Highway Traffic Act

As alluded to previously, there is a concept in law where owners of motor vehicles can be held vicariously liable. Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, s. 192(2), the car’s owner has vicarious liability for negligence for the operation of their vehicle. However, there is a notable exemption that applies when the vehicle was being driven by another person without the owner’s consent. Whether or not there was consent is not always a simple question to answer, as such consent can either be express or implied. Often times, a thorough examination of all applicable facts may be necessary in order to determine whether or not consent was provided to the operator by the owner of the vehicle.

In the aforementioned McKay v Park appeal, the issue of consent came into play as it was found that Hnatiuk seized control of the vehicle by grabbing the steering wheel, actions which clearly demonstrated that he did not have Park’s consent to operate the vehicle.

Accusations of negligent driving

Additionally, the plaintiff Park’s insurance company, TD (Toronto Dominion), also argued that Ms. Park was negligent while driving as she was agitated and distracted by the argument. The Appeal judge rejected this line of argument and found that the action of grabbing the steering wheel wasn’t foreseeable and that she did not have any history of negligent driving. Therefore, the decision of the lower court to dismiss the claim as against Ms. Park remained as the appeal was dismissed.  

Seek Legal Help

If you are injured in a car accident and you are considering filing for damages, you need to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer immediately. A qualified motor vehicle accident lawyer in Ontario will conduct all relevant investigations to ensure that all proper parties are sued, offer the legal guidance that you need, educate you on your rights and options to ensure you are fairly compensated for all losses.