A charge of criminal negligence causing death against an auto mechanic may proceed, the Ontario Court of Appeal has decided, holding that it was possible that a reasonable jury could find that the mechanic was a “significant contributing cause” of a woman’s death.

The case illustrates that workers – perhaps particularly those who repair or operate vehicles or equipment – could face criminal charges if they are negligent and the negligence causes injury or death.

The mechanic issued a Safety Standards Certificate to the purchaser of a 17-year-old pickup truck.  The Safety Standards Certificate was required to complete the transfer of ownership.  There was evidence that the mechanic did not conduct the legally-required inspection of the truck.  A month later, the truck was involved in an accident in which the driver lost control and collided with an oncoming vehicle driven by the young woman, who died as a result of the accident.

There was evidence at a preliminary inquiry that the truck would not have passed a safety inspection and that there was a serious defect in the truck’s steering mechanism (“excessive free play” in the steering wheel).  The appeal court noted that an O.P.P. accident reconstructionist concluded that the steering defect pre-dated the collision and would cause the driver to over-correct in a panic situation, leading to a loss of control and further over-steering. Also, there was evidence that the truck “fishtailed” before the collision; the previous owner had testified that the steering wheel wandered” and had “a little bit of play”; there was testimony that the purchaser of the truck was planning on installing a new steering shaft; and there was testimony that both the driver and the purchaser thought to blame the accident on the steering shortly after the accident.

The Ontario Court of Appeal therefore concluded that a reasonable jury could find that the mechanic was a significant contributing factor to the death and that the mechanic was therefore guilty of criminal negligence causing death. Therefore, the charge of criminal negligence causing death should proceed to a trial.

R. v. Ramono, 2015 ONCA 685 (CanLII)