August 13, 2018 by Greg Meckbach
A Newfoundland and Labrador construction company no longer faces a lawsuit from the estate of an injured worker, after the Supreme Court of Canada announced Thursday it will not hear an appeal.
Many Canadian corporate clients lack liability insurance covering lawsuits from injured workers because those workers often due not have the right to sue. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Trial Division ruled in 2016 that the estate of Roland Warford (a mechanic who was injured in 1995 while repairing a truck) could sue Warford’s employer, Weir’s Construction Ltd.
Warford v. Weir’s Construction Ltd. was reversed on appeal in a ruling released in January 2018. Warford’s estate applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which announced Aug. 9, 2018 that it will not hear an appeal.
The end result re-established the principal that an injured worker cannot sue an employer when the injured party is also receiving provincial workers compensation benefits, a situation that would create the potential for double recovery.
The rationale of provincial no-fault workers compensation insurance is to enable a tradeoff. Workers get easier access to benefits while employers do not face the risk of lawsuits.
There is an exception to this rule – in Newfoundland and Labrador- when a workplace injury arises from “use of a motor vehicle.”
Warford was employed in 1995 as a mechanic at Weir’s Construction. He was repairing a truck when the truck rolled off blocks. As a result, Warford, was pinned under the truck and his lower body was crushed.
Warford received provincial workers compensation benefits and wanted to sue the construction company. Warford has since died, but his estate went to court arguing it should have the right to sue. Allegations against Weir’s have not been proven in court.
Weir’s argued the lawsuit is barred by the provincial Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission Act. This argument was rejected by Justice Alphonsus Faour of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Trial Division in his 2016 ruling.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Workers Compensation Act stipulates that workers can sue employers if they are injured “while being transported in the course of the worker’s employment by a mode of transportation in respect of which public liability insurance is required to be carried” or “as a result of an accident involving the use of a motor vehicle by the worker or another person, in the course of the worker’s employment.”
In ruling in 2016 against Weir’s Construction, Justice Faour overturned a decision by the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission.
The commission had ruled that repair and maintenance of a vehicle does not constitute “use”.
That ruling was “unreasonable,” Faour concluded, because the commission had not explained why repair and maintenance of a vehicle is not one of the “ordinary and well-known” activities associated with “use” of a motor vehicle.
But in restoring the commission’s finding, Justice Gale Welsh of the Court of Appeal for Newfoundland and Labrador said the commission’s conclusion was “within a range of possible, acceptable outcomes.”
Concurring were Justices Charles White and Lois Hoegg.
“Based on the dictionary definition and the language used in other statutes, the Commission chose to accept the narrower meaning of ‘use’, which does not include repair, and to distinguish and reject the broader meaning of ‘use’ adopted in insurance cases,” Justice Welsh wrote.