Canadian Underwriter

How this property restoration firm got in and out of trouble

May 17, 2019   by Greg Meckbach

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A restoration contractor whose employee drove a company vehicle with a suspended licence is getting its truck back from police impoundment.

A man identified as “C.S.” was pulled over in Barrie late Friday evening March 15 while driving a  2017 GMC Savana belonging to his employer, wrote Jennifer Friedland of the Ontario Licence Appeal Tribunal (LAT) in 11960 v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles, released Thursday.

C.S.’s driver’s licence had been suspended since 2010 because he refused to provide a breath sample and did not enter a remedial program. C.S. was neither assigned nor given permission to drive company vehicles, the employer told the LAT.

The Savana was impounded. The owner is an unidentified Toronto-based provider of clean up services related to insurance claims. The restoration contractor, which has about has about 80 employees and about 30 vehicles, has a branch in Barrie.

The restoration firm owner, identified as P.L., went to the LAT seeking to have the GMC Savana released from impoundment. The provincial transportation ministry (legally known as the “Registrar of Motor Vehicles”) tried to keep the vehicle from being released, arguing that the worker caught driving the vehicle had “tacit consent” to take the vehicle.

Under the Highway Traffic Act, if police impound a vehicle, the registered owner can get it back if the owner convinces the LAT that either that keeping the vehicle impounded would result in undue hardship or that the vehicle was stolen.

The arresting officer told the LAT that G.S. was discovered to have a key for the company Savana on the same ring as his personal keys and that he told the police officer he was going to fuel the vehicle.

Company owner P.L. did not seek to press charges against C.S. for stealing the vehicle. That was among the reasons the registrar argued the vehicle should not be deemed stolen.

But the LAT noted that then-employee C.S., who has since been fired, had been considered a “great worker”– up until the night he took the vehicle.

Friedland was convinced, on a balance of probabilities, that C.S. took the Savana without permission. Within the context of an owner applying to have his vehicle released from police impoundment, C.S.’s actions amount to having stolen the vehicle, wrote Friedland.

Among the transportation ministry’s arguments were that the keys were available to G.S. because they were stored on a wall in the office.

“In a workplace environment, any number of items are available for the taking to employees who wish to act nefariously,” countered LAT member Friedland. “For example, computers, photocopiers, and office supplies are commonly available in most offices. However, the availability of such items hardly authorizes an employee to walk out with them. I find there to be little difference here in the context of taking a company vehicle without permission, despite knowing where the keys are kept.”

Company owner P.L. said the Barrie office is open at all hours because a call for emergency restoration could come in any time.

The LAT is a quasi-judicial provincial organization whose members adjudicate appeals over a wide variety of matters, including the licensing of drivers, bars and vehicle dealers. Since 2016 the LAT has also been adjudicating auto accident benefits disputes between insurers and claimants.