The Purpose and Causation Test as Applied to Accident Benefits

S.B.  v Aviva Insurance Company of Canada, 2019 CanLII 22211 (ON LAT)

In February 2019, a decision of the Ontario Licence Appeal Tribunal clarified the purpose and causation tests used to determine an applicant’s rights to benefits under the Statutory Accident Benefits, O.  Reg.  34/10.  In this case, the applicant referred to as S.B.  had attended a gas station and filled her vehicle with fuel.  S.B.  retrieved her purse and was walking towards the kiosk to pay when she slipped on something on the pavement, became entangled in her purse straps, and fell down.  S.B.  admitted that the fall was in front of her vehicle and that she did not make contact with her car when she fell.

The adjudicator for the Ontario Licence Appeal Tribunal had to determine whether S.B.’s accident met the definition of the word “accident.”  As determined in Amos v. Insurance Corp.  of British Columbia [1995] 3 S.C.R.  405, the Supreme Court defined the two-part purpose and causation test as:  

  1. Did the accident result from the ordinary and well-known activities to which automobiles are put? 
  2. Is there some nexus or causal relationship (not necessarily a direct or proximate causal relationship) between the appellant's injuries and the ownership, use or operation of his vehicle, or is the connection between the injuries and the ownership, use or operation of the vehicle merely incidental or fortuitous? 

In essence, was the vehicle being used for its normal purpose?   An accident resulting from a person attempting to stand on the roof while the vehicle is moving would not meet the first part of the test, as it is not an ordinary use of a car to be standing on the roof. 

The second part of the test asks if there is a connection between the vehicle and the person’s injuries.  In Amos, the Supreme Court refers to an earlier decision called Law, Union & Rock Insurance Co.  v. Moore’s Taxi Ltd., [1960] 1 S.C.R.  80, 1959 CanLii 81 (SCC) to illustrate this test, citing:

It was held that the insured's liability arose from a breach of duty that occurred after the vehicle was stopped, when the child crossed the street unescorted.  This duty was a contractual duty and had nothing to do with the use or operation of the insured's vehicle…

In the case at hand, although S.B.  had been refueling her vehicle shortly before she fell, she had walked away from the vehicle, slipped on something on the ground and then became tangled in her purse strap.  The adjudicator stated in her decision, at paragraph 37:

In this case, whether or not the applicant slipped on something prior to getting her leg(s) tangled in her purse strap, I find that the applicant’s fall was an intervening act and that the fall, and not the use or operation of her automobile, was the direct cause of her injuries.

The adjudicator dismisses the application for Statutory Accident Benefits and concludes at paragraph 39:

I find that although the applicant’s fall was very close to her car, she did not come in contact with her car when she fell, nor did the car cause her to fall.  At the time of her fall she had finished putting gas in her car and any use or operation of her car had ended.  In these circumstances I find that the use of her car was neither a dominant feature in her fall nor did her car or the use or operation of that car cause her to fall.  Proximity in time or location to a vehicle at the time of a fall is not sufficient to render the use or operation of that vehicle the dominant feature of the fall.

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