Two Quebec Court of Appeal decisions in 2022 demonstrate it’s not enough to show an auto is involved in a claim for an insured to be eligible for compensation under the province’s auto insurance scheme, a Quebec lawyer writes in a blog for Mondaq.
“Quebec’s Automobile Insurance Act is the object of abundant jurisprudence,” said Stéphanie Beauchamp of Robinson Sheppard Shapiro LLP, in a paper written in partnership with the Montreal Association of Insurance Women. “In two recent decisions, the Court of Appeal restated the basis of the act and the criteria to keep in mind when determining whether [the state regime for compensating injured drivers] applies. In both cases, the decision of the trial court was overturned, demonstrating that there is still room for discussion.”
Simply stated, in Quebec, private auto insurers cover claims costs related to physical damage of the cars. The government looks after compensation to injured victims, as administered by the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec [SAAQ].
The SAAQ appeared as an intervenor in two recent Court of Appeal cases to contest its jurisdiction in auto accident claims where the injuries were partly related to the use of an auto, and partly not.
In each matter, the Court of Appeal found only portions of the claims — not the entirety of the claims — fell within the SAAQ’s jurisdiction. In each case, only the injuries caused directly by the use of the vehicle qualified for compensation by SAAQ.
The first case, Lamarre c. Lemieux, involved a dispute between two neighbours. On Sept. 15, 2017, Jacques Lamarre, a resident of Saint-Vallier, headed on his farm tractor — which was registered to travel on a public road — toward the shore of the Saint-Vallier river. To get to the wharf, he had to take a path nearby the residence of John Lemieux.
Lemieux called out to Lamarre to remind him it was prohibited to drive a vehicle on the shore. As background to the despite, Lemieux was mayor of the municipality when he agreed to an amicable settlement in a dispute between the municipality and a resident in connection with access to the shore. Lamarre disagreed with the settlement and frequently criticized Lemieux for the role he played in this affair.
Lamarre ignored Lemieux’s warning, prompting Lemieux to step in front of the tractor to stop it from moving ahead. The tractor hit Lemieux when Lamarre released the parking brake. Lemieux then moved to the side of the tractor and tried to grab Lamarre by his vest, which was torn as Lamarre continued on his way. Both claimed damages against one another, and the trial judge ruled compensation was owed under SAAQ’s auto insurance mandate.
The Appeal Court disagreed. “Qualifying the prejudice [e.g., the harm or damage done to a claimant], and the causal link between the prejudice and the use of the automobile, are at the heart of the analysis to be performed to decide whether the litigation falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the SAAQ,” Beauchamp wrote for Mondaq. “Although the [Insurance] Act must be given a broad and liberal interpretation to facilitate compensation, the [Appeal] Court emphasized that we should not conclude that it applies merely because an automobile is involved in the series of facts.”
In the second case, Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec c. City of Montreal, Jeffrey Pokora watched as a car passed him from behind while he was stopped at an intersection and blew through the intersection without stopping. Pokora followed the driver to a residential driveway, parked in the street, and confronted the driver, who was an off-duty police officer employed by the city.
As a result of the altercation, both independently called 911. In his call, the off-duty police officer suggested Pokora was possibly armed. He mentioned the code “10-07,” indicating he was a police officer in danger.
Meanwhile, Pokora returned to his vehicle to await the arrival of the police. But when he saw the police officer he confronted get behind the wheel of his car, he moved his car to block the driveway entrance. Furious, the officer crashed into Pokora’s vehicle three times. Fearing for his safety, Pokora left the scene and was eventually stopped and arrested by police officers.
After a three-day trial, Pokora was acquitted of all charges. The court ruling expressed incomprehension at the behaviour of the off-duty police officer, ruling he had misled the 911 operator and his colleagues on the force.
Pokora sought compensation from the SAAQ for whiplash and lumbar sprain resulting from the collision. The Court of Appeal agreed the SAAQ owed compensation for these injuries.
But in turning the matter back to the trial judge, the Appeal Court did not agree SAAQ was necessarily on the hook for Pokora’s legal fees related to the criminal charges against him (and from which he was acquitted). Nor should it necessarily be covering the legal fees related to damages claimed for violations of Pokora’s Charter rights, based on his arrest and detention.
“These claims costs do not seem related to bodily harm,” as Beauchamp writes.
“Although the criminal charges were initially related to the use of an automobile, the alleged fault was committed once the use was terminated,” Beauchamp observes. “The damages claimed are not intended compensation for bodily harm, but rather for the deprivation of the plaintiff’s freedom…
“These recent cases illustrate that each fact pattern is important and that we cannot take for granted that the entirety of a claim somehow involving the use of an automobile invariably falls within the jurisdiction of the SAAQ.”