Canada: The Fast & The Furious: Hard Drugs, Fast Cars & Untimely Death

Case Study: Isaac Estate v Matuszynska

In the midst of a crisis, the common law Doctrine of Emergency is a defendant's saving grace.

When faced with a sudden emergency that a driver is not responsible for creating, he or she cannot be held to a standard of conduct of a reasonable driver in ordinary circumstances – the unique and exigent circumstances must be taken into account when measuring the appropriate standard of care and whether or not there was a breach.

On February 23, 2018, in a split-decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal in Isaac Estate v Matuszynska1 upheld a lower court's decision granting summary judgment and dismissing the action, where the Doctrine of Emergency was found to apply in a drug transaction that went horribly wrong.

The Facts

On April 14, 2009, seven individuals occupying two cars met in a dark parking lot behind a bar in London, Ontario to execute a drug deal. The transaction quickly turned sour as an argument ensued between two of the individuals, namely Glen Michael Isaac and Jean Lafontaine. Mr. Isaac was a passenger in Mr. Lafontaine's vehicle, which was owned by IIona Irena Matuszynska. As a result of their quarrel, Mr. Isaac exited the vehicle operated by Mr. Lafontaine and entered the other vehicle. However, he quickly returned with an unknown object which he used to smash Mr. Lafontaine's driver's side window and leap inside the car.

Mr. Lafontaine, in a moment of despair, took evasive action and started driving, all the while fighting off Mr Isaac's attempt to commandeer the steering wheel. Disastrously, the vehicle hit a curb. Mr. Isaac was thrown from the car, struck his head and died instantly.

Mr. Lafontaine admitted that he had consumed crack cocaine prior to getting behind the wheel of the car. Although he was charged with driving while prohibited, breach of a recognizance, and a drug offence, the London Police Service concluded that Mr. Isaac's death was accidental.

The deceased's mother, siblings, and two infant daughters commenced an action in negligence pursuant to the Family Law Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. F. 3 (FLA) alleging, among other things, that Mr. Lafontaine had contributed to the deceased's death. The deceased's mother not only sought damages in her personal capacity but also as estate trustee of her son's estate.

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (the statutory third party) and the respondent, IIona Irena Matuszynska, successfully brought motions for summary judgment.

Motions for Summary Judgment

Justice Helen A. Rady dismissed the action, finding that the Doctrine of Emergency was a complete answer to the plaintiffs' claim. The legal test requires that the harm be (1) imminent and (2) unforeseen. Justice Rady emphasized that:

"Mr. Lafontaine acted in a matter of seconds, in a time of panic and confusion, when he reasonably feared for his safety and that of his passengers. In these circumstances, Lafontaine was not to be held to a standard of perfection; the standard expected of him was that of an ordinarily prudent person acting in the stress of an emergency."2

As a result, Mr. Lafontaine was found to have acted reasonably in the context of the emergency he faced and he could not be faulted for Mr. Isaac's action. The consequence of the finding that Mr. Isaac was the sole author of his own misfortune was that it prevented the FLA claims from proceeding, as their lawsuit was wholly dependent on the deceased successfully maintaining an action against the moving parties.

The Appeal

The appellants submitted that the motion judge erred in applying the Doctrine of Emergency to find that Mr. Lafontaine did not fall short of the standard of care expected of him.

Majority Decision

The appellants specifically argued that Mr. Lafontaine did not pass the second branch of the doctrine of emergency, contending that he could have reasonably anticipated that Mr. Isaac was about to act negligently and expose himself to danger. Justice G. Huscroft, with support of Justice Lauwers, rejected this argument and emphasized that the mere possibility of a dangerous situation occurring in the course of a drug deal, in the middle of the night, in an empty parking lot, was not a sufficient indicator of the attack that transpired that evening. Justice Huscroft maintained that the motion judge did not err in concluding that Lafontaine did not anticipate Mr. Isaac's actions, and further expressed that it was not the role of the court to reweigh the evidence that was before the motion judge to reach a different conclusion.

Dissenting Opinion

Justice A. Pepall issued a strong dissenting opinion, and was highly critical of the majority opinion's decision to uphold the conclusion awarding summary judgment in favour of the defendants:

[50] In my view, the new and welcomed approach to summary judgment described in Hryniak v. Mauldin, 2014 SCC 7, [2014] 1 S.C.R. 87 does not call for the granting of a judgment anchored on minimal factual findings made in the face of unresolved material inconsistencies in the evidence, dependent on an infrequently used and ill-defined doctrine of emergency absent any analysis of the elements of that doctrine, and based on a finding not actually made by the motions judge but determined by my colleague to be "implicit in her decision".

Justice Pepall was of the opinion that the motion judge failed to consider whether the confrontation could have reasonably been anticipated by Mr. Lafontaine since he was warned by a passenger in the other car to "get out of here". Mr. Lafontaine apparently ignored those warnings as well as his own gut feeling that "something wasn't right". Instead, he kept the vehicle where it was, but shifted it into drive in response to the deceased's growing agitation.

Justice Pepall confirmed that in negligence claims, an emergency does not amount to a defence; rather it informs the standard of care. To avoid liability, a person must exercise the standard of care that would be expected of an ordinary, reasonable, and prudent person in the same circumstances. What is reasonable depends in part on the likelihood of a foreseeable harm.

However, to constitute an emergency in a legal sense, the emergent situation must be imminent and unforeseen. The doctrine will not apply where the emergency could have been reasonably anticipated.

Unfortunately for the deceased's family members, Justice Pepall's opinion was not shared by her colleagues.


It is not surprising that this recent appellate case was a split-decision. It is quite difficult, sitting in a courtroom, to be a "Monday Morning Quarterback" and try and determine what an individual, facing an apparent emergency, could or should have done in given circumstances.

What makes the factual matrix in this case all the more difficult is that it involved a drug transaction, in the middle of the night, in an empty parking lot, which no doubt carries with it its own inherent tension, anxiety, fear and concern. A "fight or flight" internal struggle was likely going on in the driver's head, with serious consequences if he "chose wrong".

This case is demonstrative of the fact that the Doctrine of Emergency is a viable tool for defendants, insurers, and counsel in these types of challenging claims, provided the emergency is "imminent and unforeseen".

As Justice Peppal noted in dissent, the doctrine is infrequently used, and ill-defined. However, in the case at bar, three out of the four judges hearing the case (the motion judge, and two members of the appellate panel) preferred to apply the doctrine, confirming that it certainly is worthwhile to raise, in appropriate circumstances.

Read the full Court of Appeal decision.


1. 2018 ONCA 177.

2. 2018 ONCA 177 at para18.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions