The recent granting of a motion for summary judgment by a plaintiff against an insurer in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) rollover accident could make it easier for auto insurance policyholders to access their coverage.
Ultimately, the ruling could benefit policyholders who don’t fully meet the terms of their auto policy, said Tim Crljenica, partner at Thomas Gold Pettingill LLP.
“While there has been a breach of the legal conditions [in the ATV case]the judge felt it would be unfair to [the ATV owner] be denied the benefit of his $1 million insurance coverage,” he said. “This could be a useful decision for policyholders when insurers have declined coverage.”
The case (Pridmore against Drenth, 2023 ONSC 817) stems from an incident that occurred on March 29, 2014 in Dunnville, Ontario. Plaintiff Breanne Pridmore was a passenger on a four-wheeled ATV driven by Tyler Drenth and owned by her father, Theodore Drenth.
At the time, Theodore owned two ATVs insured under a standard Ontario automobile policy with Novex Insurance Company, named as a third party in the lawsuit, which included $1 million in liability coverage.
Although the text of the decision lacks some details about the accident, the fact that the ATV overturned suggests that the plaintiff’s injuries were serious, noted .
“The summary judgment only dealt with whether the Novex police would be required to compensate any of the defendants for a judgment in favor of the plaintiff,” he said. Canadian underwriter. “The judge told Novex they’re going to have to pay up to $1 million for any vicarious liability found against Theodore.”
Théodore and his spouse, Sandra, have been named as insured on the policy. Tyler was also an insured under the policy when he drove the insured vehicle with Theodore’s consent.
The Drenths’ house is half a block from rural fields with trails, where ATVs were ridden. Getting to these fields required a short trip down Central Lane, which is adjacent to the back of this house. Theodore had given Tyler permission to cross Central Lane on his way to the fields.
A friend had asked Tyler to bring an ATV to a nearby field to help get his friend’s ATV out of the mud. En route, he rode the ATV to Pridmore’s apartment, about a block from Drenth’s house, and she joined Tyler on the ATV.
They went down Central Lane to the fields, then to the field to extract the friend’s ATV from the mud. Afterwards, “they went to the friend’s house for lunch, during which Tyler had a beer or two,” said Judge DL Edwards’ Feb. 1 ruling.
On his way home, due to a snow squall, Tyler left the trails and traveled along a shoulder. “While driving along the shoulder of Bird Road, Tyler drove the ATV into a culvert between the shoulder of the road and a farmer’s field. The ATV rolled over, injuring both Breanne and Tyler,” the decision noted. “Tyler possessed a G1 driver’s license which required a licensed driver to sit beside him when operating a motor vehicle on Ontario highways.”
Tyler was found guilty of two Traffic Laws offences: driving the ATV on a highway and driving a vehicle on a highway without the proper license.
Novex denied coverage because Theodore allowed Tyler to operate the ATV when he knew or should have known that Tyler was operating the ATV in violation of a legal condition on a highway.
While Judge Edwards found that Theodore should have known that driving the ATV on Central Lane with only a G1 driver’s license was a breach of a legal condition, he also accepted that Theodore consented to Tyler driving the ATV on Central Lane for the sole purpose of accessing nearby trails and returning home. “He did not consent to Tyler driving on the shoulder of a road,” the ruling reads.
Crljenica noted that the judge chose to look at the issue from the perspective of exemption from confiscation, which can be granted by a court in cases of “imperfect compliance” with the prerequisites for insurance coverage.
“Theodore’s violation of the legal condition allowed Tyler to ride the ATV down Central Lane to access the trails in the fields and return home. I have found that this breach does not taint the entire journey,” Judge Edwards wrote. “Theodore’s conduct constituted imperfect compliance with the terms of the policy.”
Granting the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, Edwards said: “I declare that the full limits of the liability insurance policy available under Novex policy number AA3840420 was available to Theodore Drenth at the time of the incident. of March 29, 2014.”
The case will now go to trial in May 2023, unless the parties reach a settlement.
Image courtesy of iStock.com/Photoboyko