Child Injured in a car accident, sues parent (father) for “negligent parenting”

A recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision on automobile accident insurance considers a narrow but interesting point of law. Here was the scenario:

Bradley is the father to Amealia, a teenager. His girlfriend is Tammy-Lynn.

One fateful day Tammy-Lynn drove the three of them in her car, even though she was impaired. They got into an accident.

Tammy-Lynn has an automobile accident policy with Peel Mutual. As part of the insurance claim that is sparked by the situation, Amealia sued her father for “negligent parenting”, asserting that he was negligent for allowing her to be driven by the impaired Tammy-Lynn in the first place.

Bradley turned to Peel Mutual to defend him against the claim by his daughter. He insisted that under the clear wording of the relevant insurance legislation (namely s. 239 of the Insurance Act), he is an “insured person” under Tammy-Lynn’s policy, and that Peel Mutual had a duty to defend him against his own daughter’s “negligent parenting” suit.

Bradley asked the Appeal Court for a declaration accordingly, after being unsuccessful before a motion judge previously.

The Court dismissed his appeal. The insurer’s duty to defend was not triggered in the circumstances, and that the insurer had no obligation to defend Bradley against his daughter’s claim. The wording of the insurance legislation was clear that, in order to be covered, as an occupant Bradley’s liability to Amealia (if any) must be for “loss or damage form the use or operation of the automobile.” Even though Amealia’s injuries technically arose from the use of a vehicle, Bradley’s alleged liability for her loss or damage did not. Instead, as the court put it:

His liability is alleged to arise from negligent parenting, not from anything he did or did not do as an occupant connected to the use or operation of the automobile.

In other words, Amealia was claiming against him for his allegedly bad parenting, not for anything he did while being a fellow passenger in his girlfriend’s car. Indeed, the previous motions court judge was correct in finding there was no “causal connection” between Bradley’s alleged liability to Amealia, and the use or operation of the automobile, as the legislation required. The Court said:

As the motion judge pointed out, on [Bradley’s] theory his liability for negligent parenting arising from a decision to put his daughter in an automobile operated by an impaired driver would be covered if he also got into the car, but not if he did not. The plain language of the provision prevents the absurdity of coverage linked to his fortuitous and immaterial occupancy.

The Court dismissed the appeal.

For the full text of the decision, see:

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