The Court of Appeal for Ontario has reversed the Superior Court’s decision in Matheson v. Lewis, finding that the plaintiff farmer’s Honda ATV was an off-road vehicle that required automobile insurance at the time of the accident.

In Matheson, the plaintiff farmer used his Honda ATV on October 11, 2008 to travel from one part of his farm to another. The evidence was that he intended to travel for approximately thirty seconds, or less, on a public road in the course of his farming operation, in order to check on his flock of sheep, which are pastured on his property.

While he was on the public road, the defendant Lewis rear-ended Matheson’s ATV with a truck. As a result of the accident, Matheson suffered catastrophic injuries. He sued Lewis et al. in tort. He also sued his insurer, Lanark Mutual, for accident benefits.

The defendants brought a Rule 21 motion for the determination of a question of law raised by a pleading in an action. All the defendants took the position that the plaintiff was driving an uninsured automobile on a public road at the time of the accident. Accordingly, the tort defendants argued that his claim was barred pursuant to section 267.6(1) of the Insurance Act (in a nutshell, that section says that you cannot sue for damages arising from a motor vehicle accident if you were driving an uninsured vehicle at the time of the accident). Meanwhile, the accident benefits carrier Lanark argued that the claimant was not entitled to various specified accident benefits because he was driving an uninsured vehicle at the time of the accident, contrary to section 30 of the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (accidents before September 1, 2010).

The motion judge framed the issue as a question of mixed fact and law: Whether Arthur Matheson’s ATV on October 18th, 2008, was a “self-propelled implement of husbandry”.  If so, it would be specifically excluded from Ontario’s compulsory insurance regime.  If not, he would be in breach of such regime.

In interpreting the legislation, the motion judge considered whether the regulatory definitions were out of date, how the farming community viewed these types of vehicles, and whether the claimant was at fault for the accident. The judge eventually found that the vehicle in question as a “self-propelled implement of husbandry”. Accordingly, he found the vehicle did not have to be insured at the time of the accident.

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the motion judge and found that the ATV was not a “self propelled implement of husbandry” but an off-road vehicle that had to be insured when operated by the farmer on a public road. The Court found that the judge erred in law by considering matters that were not pertinent to the exercise of statutory interpretation, noted in the paragraph above.

The Court of Appeal also found that the motion judge failed to give effect to Ontario Regulation 863 under theOff-Road Vehicles Act, which explicitly classifies the Honda ATV model TRX 200 as an “off-road vehicle”. Section 15 of the Act prohibits a person from driving an off-road vehicle on land not occupied by the owner of the vehicle unless it is insured under an automobile policy. Likewise, a regulation under the Highway Traffic Actrequires off-road vehicles to be insured when travelling on public highways. The Court of Appeal found that these various provisions, along with the Insurance Act provisions dealing with automobile insurance requirements, were all part of a comprehensive scheme. As a principal of statutory interpretation, it is presumed that the various statues dealing with the same subject matter would be consistent. The Court of Appeal stated:

Within the legislative scheme governing automobile insurance, Mr. Matheson’s ATV cannot have been both an off-road vehicle that required insurance when operated on land not occupied by the owner and at the same time a self-propelled implement of husbandry that was excluded from Ontario’s compulsory insurance regime. That the regulatory scheme classifies the Honda ATV model TRX 200 and other ATVs with steering handlebars and straddle seats as off-road vehicles leads to the immediate conclusion that they are not self-propelled implements of husbandry.

Reg. 863 could not make clearer the legislative intent that a Honda ATV model TRX 200 is an off-road vehicle and not a self-propelled implement of husbandry. The motion judge’s failure to give effect to Reg. 863 is a sufficient basis for allowing the appeal.

The Court of Appeal also found that the ATV in question did not meet the definition of “self-propelled implement of husbandry”, which required evidence that it was manufactured or designed for a specific use in farming. The Court found that, at best, the ATV was designed and manufactured to be a multipurpose vehicle and that it was now widely used in farming. However, the Court held that not all vehicles used in farming are excluded fromOntario’s compulsory automobile insurance scheme.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. It found that Mr. Matheson's ATV was not a self-propelled implement of husbandry, that his action was statute-barred by operation of s. 267 .6( 1) of the Insurance Act,and his claim for various statutory accident benefits was foreclosed by operation of s. 30(1 )(a) of the SABS.

This decision was a big win for the insurers involved in this case. That said, it could increase the number of accident benefits claims arising from single-vehicle accidents involving ATVs. Vehicles that might have been considered to be "self-propelled implements of husbandry", in light of the motion judge's decision (and therefore not "automobiles" under the Insurance Act), might now be considered off-road vehicles after the Court of Appeal's decision. If these vehicles are required to be insured pursuant to section 15 of the ORVA, anyone hurt while riding (or being struck by) one of these vehicles would be able to claim accident benefits -- even if there wasn't another "automobile" involved in the accident.

Some (farm) food for thought

See  Matheson v. Lewis, 2014 ONCA 542