Warford v. Weir's Construction Ltd. 

Application by worker for judicial review of decision of Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission regarding statutory exception for civil actions under the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission Act.

[2016] N.J. No. 274

2016 NLTD(G) 141

Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court

August 15, 2016

A.E. Faour J.

The applicant worker was employed as a mechanic by the respondent in July 1995, when he sustained serious injuries in an accident where a truck he was working on rolled off its blocks and crushed his lower body.

Under the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission Act, R.S.N.L. 1990, c. W-11 (the "Act"), an action by a worker against an employer for injuries sustained in the course of employment is prohibited unless it comes within an exception under the legislation. In this case, the relevant exception was for injuries occasioned by the “use of a motor vehicle.” The Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (the "Commission") has jurisdiction to determine whether an accident involved the “use of a motor vehicle."

The proceedings in this case were drawn out over a period of 20 years following the accident. During that time there was no determination as to whether the worker’s action was prohibited. Various proceedings were brought in respect of the determination of whether the accident involved the “use of a motor vehicle.” Following judicial review in 2010, the worker sought a third determination from the Commission regarding whether an action was prohibited under the Act. The Commission determined the action was prohibited because the accident was not one involving the “use of a motor vehicle” by the worker in the course of the worker’s employment. The worker applied for judicial review.

On judicial review the court concluded the Commission’s decision was unreasonable, set aside the decision, and determined the accident involved the “use of a motor vehicle” as it was within the exception under the Act. The court’s decision was based on the following grounds:

1. The Commission’s decision the accident did not involve the “use of a motor vehicle” was unreasonable because: the decision maker read into the Act a requirement for a public liability insurance without support for that statutory interpretation; the decision maker unreasonably ignored cases regarding the “use of a motor vehicle” and preferred a dictionary definition and comparison with definitions in other statutes enacted for different purposes; the decision maker failed to explain why the injuries sustained in the accident were not caused by the “use of a motor vehicle” when the activity in which the worker was engaged in, repair of a motor vehicle, has been accepted as "use" by the weight of judicial authority; the decision maker made a conclusory finding that 47 separate authorities were not relevant to the case and the determination without performing any analysis regarding the relationship between those authorities and the question of “use of a motor vehicle”; and the decision maker ignored a direction from the court following the most recent judicial review proceeding regarding the appropriate analytical approach for determining the issue raised on the application.

2. The Commission’s conduct raised a reasonable apprehension of bias because the Commission presented arguments in support of one of the parties that raised the prospect of it taking one side over the other in this matter.

3. The court noted that following a finding a tribunal’s decision must be set aside a court will generally remit the matter for reconsideration; however, there are circumstances, albeit rare, where a court may intervene, decline to remit and decide the issue within the jurisdiction of the tribunal. The court held that this was an appropriate case to do so because: the time that had elapsed since the accident, an unprecedented period of 20 years; the fact that remitting the matter to the Commission for a fourth determination would undermine confidence in the legal system; an examination of the previous decisions of the Commission disclosed a significant failure to do a proper analysis of the legal principles; the reasonable apprehension of bias of the Commission raised doubts about the neutrality of the Commission at a further hearing; and the decision itself, whether the accident resulted from the “use of a motor vehicle," could be appropriately determined by the court because it was a binary decision with no range of outcomes.

The court concluded the case law overwhelmingly supported the conclusion that repair and maintenance is within the definition of “use of a motor vehicle." The only reasonable determination was that the accident involved the “use of a motor vehicle” and was therefore within the exception under the Act.

The court set aside the Commission’s decision and determined the worker was entitled to pursue an action against the employer for injuries that arose out of the accident.