On June 22, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decision in the case of Westmount (City of) v Rossy.1 This decision is important, not only in Quebec, but in all Canadian provinces where a no-fault public automobile insurance scheme was adopted.
Mr. Rossy was driving his car when a tree owned by the City of Westmount fell on his car. Mr. Rossy died instantly. The family of Mr. Rossy instituted an action in damages against the City of Westmount alleging that the City had failed to properly maintain the tree.
In defence, the City of Westmount claimed that the death of Mr. Rossy resulted from an accident caused by an automobile and, therefore, that any compensation for personal injury was governed by the Automobile Insurance Act. The family of Mr. Rossy was thus prohibited from taking an action based on civil law and needed to file a claim with the relevant government agency (the SAAQ).
The decision of the Supreme Court
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the action commenced by the family of Mr. Rossy and held that the accident was indeed covered by the no-fault regime. The Supreme Court concluded that the no-fault legislation was remedial in nature and that it should, as such, be given a large and liberal interpretation to ensure that its purpose was attained.
According to the Supreme Court, even if the legislation refers to "damage caused by an automobile, or the use thereof," Courts should not look for a traditional causal link between negligence and damage. Courts should rather assess whether the accident arose out of the use of a vehicle as a means of transportation.
The Supreme Court held that, in this case, Mr. Rossy was using his car as a means of transportation and that the damage suffered arose out of the use of a vehicle within the meaning of the legislation. According to the Court, the mere use or operation of the vehicle, as a vehicle, is sufficient for the no-fault legislation to apply.
What to learn from this decision
The decision of the Supreme Court dispels doubts which existed as to the application of the no-fault legislation to borderline cases where the accident results in part from an external cause. According to the Court, the legislation does not solely apply to collisions between vehicles. Even where the accident was caused by an external factor and the car did not play an active role in the occurrence of the prejudice, the legislation nevertheless applies to the extent that the car was used as a means of transportation.
* The City of Westmount was represented before the Supreme Court of Canada by André Legrand and Dominic Dupoy of our firm.
1 2012 SCC 30.
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