Court of Appeal rules auto insurer not liable for parental negligence claim stemming from accident

Decision further narrows liability coverage for negligent parent claims, says lawyer

Court of Appeal rules auto insurer not liable for parental negligence claim stemming from accident
Heather Vaughan partner at Benson Percival Brown LLP

The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled an auto insurer is not liable for a parental negligence lawsuit that arose from a car accident.

In Hunt v. Peel Mutual Insurance Company, 2019 ONCA 656, a person injured in a motor vehicle accident sued her father for negligent parenting for allowing her to ride with a drunk driver. The drunk driver was the father’s girlfriend, and the father was also in the car. Bradley Hunt, the father, sought a declaration that his girlfriend’s insurance company – Peel Mutual Insurance Company – had a duty to defend him in the lawsuit.

“This is a very significant case because it closes off another avenue for liability coverage for claims against parents for negligent supervision,” says Heather Vaughan, a litigator whose practice includes defence of motor vehicle liability claims.

“Homeowner’s policies usually contain exclusions for bodily injury to an insured or another person residing in the insured’s household. Claims for negligent parenting may not be covered under any parent’s policy of insurance, leaving them exposed personally for any liability found,” says Vaughan, a partner at Benson Percival Brown LLP, in Toronto.

Hunt argued he was an insured person, according to the Insurance Act, “or at the very least, there is a very real possibility that he is insured” and that triggered Peel’s duty, said the decision by Justices David Paciocco, Harvison Young and Benjamin Zarnett.

Hunt failed at the trial level but appealed on the basis the motion judge misinterpreted the act “by construing s. 239 narrowly against coverage and by applying an improper causation test,” said the decision.

According to s. 239 of the act, “every contract evidenced by an owner’s policy” insures the person named in the policy, another person driving with their consent or a passenger in the car owned by the person insured on the policy. Those people are insured against liability for loss or damage arising – directly or indirectly – from ownership, use or operation of the vehicle, as well as liability for loss or damage resulting from bodily injury, death or damage to property, says the act.

The court found the “plain and ordinary meaning” of s. 239(1)(a) denies Hunt recovery because it concerns “loss or damage.” Hunt’s daughter’s injuries are insurable but a law suit for negligent parenting stemming from them, are not. The law suit is about Hunt’s parenting, which is not connected to the “use or operation of the automobile,” said the decision.

“The court found that the parent’s liability arises out of negligent parenting and not out of the operation of a motor vehicle, even though the damages arise out of the use of an automobile,” says Vaughan.

Hunt also argued that his liability for negligent parenting should be be covered by Peel because he was also in the car, though it wouldn’t be covered if he was not. The court disagreed.

“The plain language of the provision prevents the absurdity of coverage linked to his fortuitous and immaterial occupancy,” states the decision.

The court dismissed Hunt’s appeal and ordered to pay $2,500 in costs.

Richard Campbell, of Petker Campbell Postnikoff in Waterloo Ont., acted for Hunt and says Hunt will be applying for leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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