Indemnity was extended to the badly injured driver of a motor vehicle after an intoxicated passenger intentionally grabbed the steering wheel, causing the vehicle to crash because the word “use” in the legislation included use by a passenger while the vehicle was being used as a motor vehicle.

2015 B.C.J. No. 2024

2015 BCCA 394

Court of Appeal for British Columbia

E.A. Bennett, M.E. Saunders and S.S. Stromberg-Stein JJ.A

September 23, 2015

The driver of a motor vehicle was badly injured after an intoxicated passenger intentionally grabbed the steering wheel, causing the vehicle to crash. The passenger was killed in the crash. The driver obtained judgement against passenger’s estate and brought an action for indemnity against the provincial universal motor vehicle insurer. Under s.63 of the Revised Regulation (1984), B.C. Reg. 447/83, an insured includes an individual who “use[s]” a motor vehicle. Under s.64, the insurer is obliged to indemnify the insured for liability arising out of the use of a motor vehicle. The trial judge agreed that the term “use” was general enough to cover the passenger’s actions. However, the trial judge found that this conclusion was incompatible with s.66, which extended indemnity to passengers in other situations, as it would have rendered s.66 redundant. The action was dismissed and the driver appealed.

The appeal court framed the issues as: does a passenger in a motor vehicle “use” the vehicle as that word is used in the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 231, when travelling from point A to B; and if so, is there some nexus or causal relationship between the driver’s injuries and the passenger’s actions. The insurer argued that the passenger could not “use” the vehicle by passively riding in it.

The court noted that the legislation needed to be considered in the context of its scheme, which was to provide a universal, compulsory insurance program and access to compensation for those who suffer losses from motor vehicle accidents. As well, the court noted that direct consideration of the word “use” required a contextual and fact-specific analysis. The concept of the word “use” was broadly defined in the jurisprudence, and, in the view of the court, included being a passenger in a motor vehicle. Considering the legislative scheme and broad judicial consideration of the word “use”, the court held that the legislative sections were consistent and could each be given meaning, despite noting that s.66 would not extend indemnity to the passenger in the circumstances. Finally, the court concluded that “use” included use by a passenger in a motor vehicle when the vehicle was being used as a motor vehicle. With respect to the second issue, the court held that there was a clear unbroken chain of causation linking the passenger’s intentional (and negligent) act of grabbing the steering wheel while he was “using” the vehicle and the driver’s injuries. The court allowed the appeal and ordered the insurer to indemnify the estate of the passenger for the driver’s judgement.