On the basis of what the court itself described as exceptional and even disconcerting circumstances, a suit filed by a certain Guy Bouchard against a Toyota dealership and Toyota Canada Inc. was recently dismissed on a summary motion.
Plaintiff Bouchard attended at the dealership to test drive a Toyota Camry. After starting the engine, he pressed the radio activation button, which unbeknownst to him, had been set at the highest possible level. He alleged in his suit that he suffered hearing loss related to the sound trauma he experienced.
Defendants moved to dismiss the claim on the basis that the injury was caused by the use of a vehicle and that it was therefore governed by Quebec’s no fault insurance legislation which prohibited the right of action in the circumstances.
The Court cited with approval the criteria established by the Quebec Court of Appeal in 1992 in the case of Les Productions Pram Inc. vs. Lemay:
- The causal link between an injury and the use of a vehicle remains a question of logic and fact, dependent upon the circumstances of each case.
- The law does not require that the vehicle be in direct physical contact with the victim.
- It is not necessary that the vehicle be in motion, and the active or passive role of the vehicle is not determinative.
- The voluntary or involuntary behaviour which led to the injury is not important.
- The simple use of the vehicle by way of using, handling, functioning or operating is sufficient for the law to apply. The concept of injury caused by the use of the vehicle is broader than the concept of injury caused by the vehicle.
- It is not necessary that the injury arise directly from the vehicle itself. It is sufficient that it arise within the general circumstances of use of the vehicle.
The Bouchard decision is the first to address an injury occurring from a sound emitted by a vehicle. It is nonetheless in line with a number of other decisions rendered since 1992 where claims have been dismissed in circumstances where one would not immediately conclude that the injury was caused by the use of the vehicle.
Some occurrences worth mentioning involve circumstances such as a tree falling on a moving vehicle, a driver or passenger entering or exiting a car or bus, and a driver or passenger being injured by the unexpected deployment of an airbag without collision.
These decisions reflect the Legislature’s deemed intent that the law be interpreted broadly and liberally, in order that the remedial purposes of the legislation be given full effect.
Vehicle manufacturers, dealers, repairers and owners, as well as their residential, commercial or auto liability insurers can remain confident that the Quebec courts will continue to apply the law liberally and deny injury claims involving new and unusual circumstances, when warranted.