Motor Vehicle Liability Insurer Need Not Defend Allegations of Bad Parenting
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
Hunt v. Peel Mutual Insurance, 2019 ONSC 143, aff’d 2019 ONCA 656 is an interesting recent “use and operation” case out of Ontario, which considers allegations of negligent parenting against the occupant of a vehicle who did not himself cause or contribute to the accident in question's occurrence. The decision reminds us that to trigger coverage under a motor vehicle liability policy:
“[The insured] must implicate the vehicle in respect of which coverage is claimed in a manner that is more than merely incidental or fortuitous: … if the vehicle's involvement is held to be no more than incidental or fortuitous or "but for", and is ruled severable from the real cause of the loss, then the necessary causal link is not established.” (Vytlingam (Litigation Guardian of) v. Farmer, 2007 SCC 46, at para. 29).
In Hunt a father and his daughter were passengers in a vehicle operated by an allegedly intoxicated person, who drove across the centre-line into oncoming traffic. The daughter was injured and, in the underlying proceedings, sued the driver (for obvious reasons) and also her father for negligent parenting (i.e. alleging her father was negligent in permitting her to ride in a vehicle driven by an impaired driver).
The vehicle’s liability insurer conceded that the allegations against the driver related to the driver’s use and operation of the vehicle. Notwithstanding, the insurer refused to defend the father on the basis that the allegations of negligent parenting were not causally connected any use by him of the insured vehicle. Putting the question rhetorically, the insurer argued: “Why should [the father] be afforded coverage … simply because he was an occupant of the vehicle when he would have no such coverage if he had remained on the driveway but allowed his daughter to ride in the car with [the allegedly intoxicated driver]?”
In response, the father argued he was “using” the vehicle for the ordinary purpose of transporting his daughter, to which Flynn J. commented “I agree but what is missing in [the father’s] case is some form of direct or proximate causal relationship between the allegations of negligence and the use or operation of the car.” Flynn J. concluded: “[The father’s] acts or omissions in this case cannot meet the causation test in Vytlingam … [the daughter’s] claim against her father does not allege acts or omissions falling within the policy coverage.”
The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed, explaining:
… Even though [the daughter’s] injuries arose from the use of a vehicle, [the father’s] liability for her loss or damage does not. His liability is alleged to arise from negligent parenting, not from anything he did or did not do as an occupant connected to the use or operation of the automobile. When [Flynn J.] spoke of the absence of a causal connection this is what he was alluding to - the statutory requirement that the occupant's liability must be caused by or connected to the use or operation of the automobile.
… on [the father’s] theory his liability for negligent parenting arising from a decision to put his daughter in an automobile operated by an impaired driver would be covered if he also got into the car, but not if he did not. The plain language of the provision prevents the absurdity of coverage linked to his fortuitous and immaterial occupancy. …
The takeaway from Hunt is that where the driver and occupants of the same vehicle are named as defendants, when considering coverage, we must look closely at the allegations of negligence against the latter to certain if they are factually severable from those against the former. If the allegations against an occupant are not causally related to the occupant’s own use of the vehicle there may be no coverage.