On July 15, 2009, the Honourable justice Louis Crête of the Superior Court, District of Montreal, rendered a decision in Samson vs. City of Montreal.

In this case, the Société de l’Assurance automobile du Québec was also an intervenant in virtue of article 12.1 of the Automobile Insurance Act (hereinafter the “Act”). In fact, the City of Montreal was pleading absence of jurisdiction of the Superior Court by reason of the application of the Act.

Essentially, plaintiff was claiming the sum of $180,000, as a result of damages sustained after falling into a recycling bin in an ecocentre run by the City of Montreal.

The Court reviewed the activities of the ecocentre and summarized plaintiff’s accident as follows:

“Mr. Samson backed up his vehicle towards the recycling bin in question, turned off the ignition and came out to throw wood in the bin. In order to do so he had to pull down the hatch back of his vehicle but the hatch back was stuck and could not be opened. He placed his foot on one of the bumpers, one hand on the handle of the hatch back and the other on the hatch back. Mr. Samson had to force open the hatch back but the hatch back gave way and fell abruptly on the plaintiff who was then projected by the back into the recycling bin located beneath.

Mr. Samson sustained injuries to his leg and elbow.” [our translation]

The Court was called upon to determine whether or not this constituted an accident within the meaning of the Act.

To respond to this question, the Court analyzed the definition of “prejudice caused by automobile” that is “any damage caused by an automobile, by the use thereof or by the load carried in or on an automobile”. Furthermore, it referred to the caselaw and doctrine to consider that an automobile accident also covers “any event in which damage is caused by an automobile” which, includes the use of such automobile.

The Court concluded that the Superior Court was not competent for the following reasons:

“In so far as an integral part of the vehicle which provoked Mr. Samson’s fall was in direct contact with him, and in so far as the active or passive role of the vehicle is not in and of its self a determining criteria for the causal link, and in so far as or the simple use of the automobile, its operation or handling are sufficient for the application of the Act and in so far as where the damages occur within the general scope and use of the vehicle by Mr. Samson, necessarily, by applying the dominant caselaw, the accident which caused the damages sustained by the plaintiff at the ecocentre in St-Michel must be considered as an accident within the meaning of the Act.” [our translation]

Nevertheless, in case this portion of the judgment could be reversed by the Court of Appeal, the Superior Court decided to deal with the liability aspect and concluded that the City of Montreal was not responsible for the reasons set forth below:

  • there were notices of danger;
  • it was not necessary to add surveillance on the premises;
  • the necessary security measures were in place;
  • the configuration of the premises did not constitute a trap.

As such, the Court concluded that plaintiff was the author of his own misfortune and that the City of Montreal did not commit a fault.

This recent Superior Court judgement confirms once again the broad definition to be given to the notion of “accident”.