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Court of Appeal affirms expanded interpretation of “use or operation of a motor vehicle”

Written by Joseph A. Nagy, Edmonton Injury Lawyer


A recent decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal appears to broaden the definition of what constitutes “the use or operation of a motor vehicle” as it applies to a party seeking compensation from the Administrator of the Alberta Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Act, RSA 2000, c M-22. The purpose of this legislation is to provide compensation to parties who suffer injury in a motor vehicle accident caused or contributed to by uninsured or unknown drivers and owners of vehicles.

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Plante v. Administrator MVACA Claim

In Plante v. Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Act, 2024 ABCA 156, the Respondent, Mr Plante, sought compensation for psychological injuries he suffered after tragically striking and killing the Plaintiff, Ms Baptiste. The Plaintiff had been driving on a rural highway at night when her vehicle ran out of gas, and she got out of her vehicle to attempt to wave down assistance. Toxicology reports indicated that her blood alcohol level exceeded three times the legal limit. She had crossed the road and was standing on the other side of the highway, on the fog line, when she was struck by the Respondent, Mr. Plante. Ms. Baptiste died at the scene.

Mr Plante, who suffered PTSD and other psychological injuries, brought an action against Ms. Baptiste’s estate. The estate did not defend the action and was noted in default. As Ms. Baptiste did not have liability insurance on her vehicle, the Appellant Administrator defended the action. Following a summary trial (Plante v Darling, 2023 ABKB 335), Justice Poelman held that the circumstances of the accident met the requirements under the Act for the Respondent to be entitled to compensation.

Specifically, Justice Poelman found that Mr Plante’s suffered injuries “arising out of the use or operation … of a motor vehicle”, as required by s. 4 of the Act, despite the fact that the accident occurred while the tortfeasor, Ms Baptiste, was outside of her vehicle, standing on the side of the road. The Administrator appealed that decision.

Prior Case Law: Alberta Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Act

Prior case law from the Supreme Court of Canada has discussed what constitutes “use or operation of a motor vehicle”. In Citadel General Insurance Co. v. Vytlingam, 2007 SCC 46, the injured parties were driving down a highway when their vehicle was struck by a large boulder that was dropped from an overpass. The plaintiffs argued that since the defendants had used the vehicle to drive to the overpass where the boulder was dropped, their injuries resulted from the operation of the defendants’ vehicle. The Court did not allow the plaintiffs’ claim in that case, finding that the chain of causation was broken: “For coverage to exist, there must be an unbroken chain of causation linking the conduct of the motorist as a motorist to the injuries in respect of which the claim is made” (Citadel, para 25). Similar reasoning was applied in another case, Lubermans Mutual Casualty Co. v. Herbison, 2007 SCC 47, also rejecting the plaintiff’s claim for compensation.

Court of Appeal Decision Plante v. Administrator MVACA

In Plante, the Court of Appeal affirmed that the test for coverage is:

  • Whether the defendant’s vehicle was being put to an ordinary and well-known activity at the time of the occurrence (the purpose test); and
  • Whether there was an unbroken chain of causation linking the plaintiff’s injuries to the use and operation of the tortfeasor’s vehicle which is more than simply fortuitous or “but for” (the causation test).

At the time of the accident, Ms. Baptiste had been walking on the highway to seek help after she ran out of gas. The Administrator argued that there was no connection between the use of the vehicle and the occurrence of the accident. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding that there was a clear chain of causation between Ms. Baptiste’s use of her vehicle to transport herself to the accident scene and her actions when she left the vehicle. They agreed with the reasoning of the trial judge:

. . . there was an unbroken chain of causation between Ms. Baptiste’s normal use of her vehicle and her subsequent activities which led to the accident. Motorists looking for assistance after running out of fuel are within the expectation of users of a highway. This can be seen by Mr. Plante’s reducing speed and looking for pedestrians when he saw the parked vehicle, with hazard flashers, on a shoulder of the highway. Further, clearly Ms. Baptiste had not abandoned the use of her vehicle, evidenced by activating her hazard lights, leaving a passenger in the vehicle, and being found about forty metres from her vehicle. She was doing what was necessary to continue the use of her vehicle, namely, precuring [sic] assistance to get fuel (Plante v. Darling, para 29).

The Court of Appeal declined to draw a line as to how long after leaving a vehicle, or how far from the vehicle, a defendant would need to be in order to disentitle a claimant from coverage.

Implications of the Court of Appeal Decision

The decision by the Court of Appeal in Plante provides new guidance on the scope of what constitutes the “use or operation of a motor vehicle”. Ms. Baptiste was not in or near her vehicle at the time of the accident, and it was not clear how much time had passed after she exited the vehicle before she was struck. However, the purpose for which she was using her vehicle was found by the Court to be “as a motor vehicle”, and not for any ancillary purpose. She had used the vehicle for transportation at the time of the accident; she had not abandoned the use of her vehicle; she put on her hazard lights before exiting; and she left a passenger in the vehicle.

The Court found that in those circumstances, both the purpose and causation tests were satisfied, and Mr Plante’s claim against the Administrator was allowed.

If you have suffered a personal injury and need the expertise of a proven, experienced lawyer, call (780) 760-4878 (HURT) or contact me personally, Joseph A. Nagy. We can discuss the issues related to your claim, and I will explain how I can help you. You will be under no obligation to hire me as your lawyer.

Joseph A. Nagy,
Edmonton Injury Lawyer
Joseph A. Nagy Injury Law, Edmonton Injury Lawyer

Joseph A. Nagy is an experienced Edmonton personal injury lawyer. Joe provides injury law services to people who have been injured in motor vehicle accidents in Edmonton and throughout Central and Northern Alberta. Joe has successfully resolved thousands of personal injury cases. If you have suffered a personal injury and need the help of a proven, experienced personal injury lawyer, contact Joseph A. Nagy Injury Law. Ask Joe for a free consultation. 

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