The law stipulates that unless the motor vehicle was in possession of some person other than the owner without his/her consent, the owner of the registered vehicle will be held liable for any losses or damage sustained due to negligence. Therefore, for the owner of the car to escape liability, he/she must prove that the person was driving without their actual or implied consent.
Building a strong case involves ascertaining the owner’s consent. In some situations, it’s very clear to show that the vehicle was in someone else’s possession without the owner’s consent. For instance, if the car is stolen, you report to the relevant authorities, and later it’s found involved in an accident, you are clearly not responsible for the damages.
However, there are incidences where proving consent is not a simple matter. If someone is living in your house and usually borrows your car without telling you first, this could be considered ‘implied consent’. If this person is involved in an accident, you may be held liable for the losses or damages sustained.
We’ll go over two decisions that were made at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice which provided precedence for this matter in order to provide a better understanding of the Ontario law. Coincidentally in both cases, a son negligently caused an accident while driving his mother’s car. The case was taken to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and we’ll highlight the decision made and why.
Michaud-Shields v. Gough Case: Understanding ‘implied consent’
The case of Michaud-Shields v. Gough involved a son who took his mother’s car while she had left the house. The mother claimed that she did not give her son permission to drive the truck. The son did not possess a valid driver’s license. The accident occurred when the son took to drive the truck after having consumed alcohol. He hit a second vehicle being driven by a licensed driver, who was the plaintiff.
The son was caught by the Ontario police and charged with impaired driving among other offenses. The mother was also asked by the police if she wished to press any charges against the son for stealing the truck, but she declined.
The son claimed that the truck belonged to him at one point. He used it often when he still had a valid driving license. However, when his license was suspended, he transferred the title of the truck to the mother who is now the registered car owner. The mother then took insurance for the truck under her name and was using it.
The Superior Court reviewed all evidence presented and ruled the mother did not gave her son consent to use the truck. The fact that the son was not a licensed driver, further strengthened the case. The mother was not held liable for the loss or damages sustained after the accident.
The personal injury lawsuit
The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the son, the mother and his own insurance carrier. The insurance company filed a motion to the superior court claiming that the son was operating the truck with the implied consent of the mother. If it is found that the son was driving the truck with implied consent, the mother and her insurance carrier would be held responsible for the potential damages. On the other hand, if the son was operating the truck without consent, the plaintiff’s own accident benefits insurance carrier would be required to compensate for any damages under the Uninsured/Underinsured provisions of the policy, because the son did not have any insurance of his own.
The motion for summary judgment was denied by the Court. According to the presiding Judge, the undisputed evidence did not show any permission expressed.
The plaintiff’s insurance carrier argued that the judge should infer implied consent because the mother did not take any measures to ensure her son did not access or use the truck. They argued that the mother did not expressly forbid him from using the truck while she was away. The Court held that this kind of interpretation of the law is far too broad, and held the mother did not give consent simply by leaving the car in the driveway when she left for the weekend.
The Case of Leigh v. Clement:
An adult son who was living with his mother had his driving license suspended. The mother strictly warned the son against driving her vehicle due to the suspension. However, the mother allowed one of the son’s friends to drive the car and give him a ride.
The son took his mother’s car one day without her consent and was involved in an accident. The driver of the second car went and filed a personal injury claim, suing the mother for damages. The plaintiff’s insurance carrier also sued the mother by filing a cross-claim.
The mother brought a motion for summary judgment in the Superior Court. The motion was granted by Justice R. Dan Cornell of the Superior Court. The focus for the Court was to determine whether the owner of the vehicle granted possession to another person. The final ruling was that the mother did not give possession to her son and only allowed her son’s friend to use the car. Additionally, the mother was not held liable for the son’s car accident.
Determining liability in car accident cases that involve parents and their children can be more complicated than you think. This is because different parties can be involved in driving, maintaining and even insuring the vehicle. Therefore, it is critical to have an experienced and skilled personal injury lawyer by your side if you or a loved one is involved in an auto accident.