If you slip and fall on ice within 10 to 15 feet of your car, the car did not cause your fall, so that is not a “car accident” under the Statutory Accident Compensation Schedule (SABS), Ontario’s License Appeal Tribunal (LAT) ruled last week.
While this result may seem like a good idea to P&C auto insurers, the case law surrounding whether something constitutes a car accident under SABS is weak and complicated. Even in this case, the plaintiff has successfully proved that walking 10-15 minutes from your car counts as getting into your car for the purpose of claiming car accident.
That said, LAT felt its argument failed the legal “causality test” because the car had not caused her to fall.
“I think that the [claimant’s] injuries were not directly a result of the use or operation of the car,” Ontario LAT member Tavlin Kaur wrote in a decision released Thursday. “I rather think that her injuries were caused by an intermediate cause, namely the ice on the ground.
“The ice caused the slips and falls that led to her injuries, not the use or operation of her car. Although the vehicle was physically near the ice, it did not cause the slip and fall.”
In Buckley v. Wawanesa Insurance, Delores Buckley left her home and walked to her car holding her car key in her left hand. About 10 to 15 feet from her car, she slipped and fell on ice, breaking her hip.
Buckley had been lying on the floor for some time before her neighbor discovered her. Her neighbor helped her get into the car. She then drove to McDonald’s to pick up her husband, who then took her to the hospital.
In perhaps a warning to auto insurers, LAT agreed with Buckley that it was enough for her to walk to her car, 15 to 20 feet away, holding a key to show she had passed the “purposeful test” of car accidents. In other words, by approaching her vehicle, she “entered the vehicle” and was thus engaged in the “ordinary purpose” for which a car is used.
“I agree with the [insured driver] that the use and operation of the car began as she was in the process of entering her vehicle,” Kaur wrote. “The sole purpose of [the driver] walking from her house to her car was to pick up her husband. She had her key in her left hand. It was clearly intended to get into the vehicle when she slipped and fell on ice. I’m not convinced by it [Wawanesa Insurance’s] position that she just walked to the vehicle.”
However, Buckley lost her case because of the three-pronged causation test. In other words, LAT found that ordinary use or operation of the car did not actually cause her injury.
Buckley argued that since she fell on the ice and broke her hip as she was about to get in the car — and since she eventually got in the car to go to McDonald’s, after which her husband drove her to the hospital — the’ ‘chain of causation’ (for example, her driving the car) remained unbroken throughout.
But the LAT referee ruled otherwise.
“The ice on the ground and the [claimant’s] slip-and-fall constitutes an independent intermediate event that broke the chain of events,” Kaur wrote. “It started when she left her house and walked to her car to pick up her husband and ended with her slipping and falling.
“The ice and resulting slips and falls occurred regardless of the use or operation of the car. The icy conditions on the ramp and resulting slips and falls of the applicant caused the applicant’s injuries.
Feature image courtesy of iStock.com/nycshooter