Tag: registered owners

Further Clarity from BC Court of Appeal on Vicarious Liability of Vehicle Owners


As I’ve previously written, The law places a very heavy burden on vehicle owners in BC when their vehicles are involved in an at-fault collision.  In British Columbia registered owners are “vicariously liable for the negligence of the driver where the driver acquired possession of the vehicle with the consent (express or implied) of the owner“.
What this means is, if you let someone else operate your vehicle and they are at fault for a crash then you are at fault for that crash.  Today the BC Court of Appeal published reasons for judgement clarifying the application of this legal principle.
In today’s case (Snow v. Saul) the the Plaintiff was seriously injured in Vernon BC when a vehicle owned by a man named Mr. Saul and driven by a woman named Ms. Friesen struck the Plaintiff while walking on a sidewalk.  The Defendant driver apparently fell asleep at the wheel and lost control.
The Court found that Mr. Saul did not intend to let Ms. Friesen borrow his vehicle, he in fact did so by mistake.  Mr. Justice Williams found that Ms. Friesen asked to borrow Mr. Saul’s vehicle but at the time he was busy working and did not hear her because he was hard of hearing and had his hearing aid out.  As a result Mr. Saul mistakenly thought someone else was asking to borrow his vehicle so he granted permission,   Notwithstanding this interesting factual finding the trial judge went on to find that Mr. Saul was still vicariously liable for the collision because his actions constituted ”express consent” under section 86 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act (you can click here to read my article summarizing the trial finding).
The Defendant appealed arguing the trial judge incorrectly applied the law.  The BC Court of Appeal agreed and overturned the trial verdict finding the registered owner was not vicariously liable for the crash.  In reaching this conclusion the BC High Court made the following findings:

[16]         The central question raised by this appeal is whether the effect of Vancouver Motors U-Drive is that whenever a person (“O”), of his own free will, permits his vehicle to be driven by “A”, he is deemed to have consented to the vehicle being driven by anyone, and is thus liable to an injured plaintiff for damages caused by “B”.  In my view, the case does not stand for that proposition.  The grammatical structure and wording of s. 86(1) are such that it is the “person driving the motor vehicle” who must have acquired possession with the owner’s consent.  Thus in cases where B negligently causes damage to a plaintiff, the argument made by the plaintiff depends on proof of implied consent (which as noted above is not argued in the case at bar).  In such instances, British Columbia courts have ruled that O will not be liable, without more, for injuries resulting from B’s operation of the motor vehicle.  The plaintiff must in addition show that the owner had an “expectation and willingness” that the vehicle would be driven by B: see Simpson v. Parry (1968) 65 W.W.R. 606 (B.C.S.C.), per MacFarlane J. (as he then was), citing Martell v. Chartier & Dominion Motors Ltd. [1935] 1 W.W.R. 305 (Man. C.A.) and Antilla v. Majeau (1954) 12 W.W.R. (N.S.) 575 (Alta. Ap. Div.).  More recently, in Godsman v. Peck, supra, this court ruled that without evidence that the owner of a motorcycle who had lent it to another (A), expected that A would lend it to a third party (B), the owner’s consent to B’s operating the cycle could not be implied.  As the Court stated:

There should be evidence to show, or support the inference, that the owner turned his mind to the likelihood of that further transfer of possession. If there is no such evidence, a court finding liability on the owner’s part is not implying consent so much as deeming it. One of the commendable goals of s. 79(1) may be to induce owners of motor vehicles to exercise discretion when transferring control of them to others, but to impose liability in a case where such a transfer was not within the contemplation of the owner would do nothing to further that goal, and simply goes too far.  [At para. 28; emphasis added.]

(See also Smaldino v. Calla [1999] B.C.J. No. 2816 (S.C.).)

[17]         Conversely, consent may be implied from a course of conduct or circumstances known to the owner, as illustrated by Deakins v. Aarsen [1971] S.C.R. 609.  There it was held that an owner who had lent her car to her son to use whenever he wanted it, had not discharged the onus on her under s. 105(1) of the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1960, c. 172, to prove that when the son had lent the car to his girlfriend, he had done so without the mother’s consent.  The Court emphasized in brief reasons that the car was “for all practical purposes” the son’s car and that his mother exercised no control over who was to drive it.  She had been aware the girlfriend was her son’s “constant companion” and the trial judge evidently disbelieved her evidence that she had told her son not to let anyone else drive the car.

[18]         Counsel for the plaintiff submits that the implied consent cases are irrelevant to this case, which he says concerns “consent at law, not consent in fact”.  In his submission, what was in the owner’s mind is irrelevant as long as he gave up possession of his vehicle as a result of the exercise of his free will.  Thus what Mr. Weatherill characterizes as a “mistake” on Mr. Saul’s part when he gave his consent is neither here nor there – just as the “mistake” under which the employees of the car rental company in Vancouver Motors U-Drive Ltd. were labouring was found not to affect the validity of its consent to the fraudster’s operation of its car.

[19]         In my respectful view, however, this case is very different from Vancouver Motors U-Drive, where the appellant’s employees intended to lend the car to the person standing before them, and that person in fact drove the car.  In the case at bar, accepting the trial judge’s findings of fact, the owner did not consent to Ms. Friesen’s driving his truck.  He was told that “Neal” wanted to borrow it.  That is what Mr. Saul expressly consented to.  It defies common sense to say that he in fact consented to Ms. Friesen’s driving it.  Indeed, the trial judge accepted at para. 37 of his reasons that Mr. Saul would not have lent his vehicle to Ms. Friesen, as opposed to Neal Bourgeois.

[20]         Does the fact that we are here concerned with the application of a statutory provision change this common-sense conclusion?  Again, in my view, the answer is no.  Section 86 does not on its face “deem” one to have the owner’s consent when he or she does not have it in fact; nor does it impose a “legal” definition of consent that is at variance with the ordinary and natural meaning of the word.  The respondents rely heavily on the two purposes of s. 86, as described in Yeung, supra.  I do not see that the second objective is engaged in this case since, despite Mr. Weatherill’s suggestion that Mr. Saul had “casually” consented to lending his car, there is no evidence Mr. Saul did anything other than take reasonable care in consenting to Neal Bourgeois’ using his truck.  The trial judge found that Mr. Bourgeois did not share his partner’s drug addiction and that Mr. Saul is a “reasonably careful person who does not take unnecessary chances.”  (Para. 36.)  As for the expansion of the availability of compensation, s. 86(1) goes only so far: it does not state that whenever a person uses another’s car, the owner is vicariously liable.  The intention of the legislation is to place liability on a person who permits his car to be used by another, where that other negligently causes injury to a plaintiff.  In this case, the person to whom Mr. Saul gave his consent was Neal Bourgeois.  It was not Mr. Bourgeois who drove the truck negligently.

[21]         In the result, I would allow the appeal and set aside the trial judge’s order imposing vicarious liability on Mr. Saul pursuant to s. 86(1) of the Act.

A Caution to BC Vehicle Owners – Take Care in Who You Lend Your Vehicle To


Reasons for judgement were published this week by the BC Court of Appeal revealing a valuable lesson to registered owners of vehicles.  Owners must take care in choosing who they lend their vehicle to as they can be found personally liable if such a person carelessly injures others while driving or operating the vehicle.
In today’s case (Robert v. Forster) Mr. Forster (the owner of a vehicle) allowed his daughter to use it.  He had rules restricting the scope of this permission, and these were that she “was not to drink and drive” and that “no one other than (the daughter) was to drive the vehicle“.
On June 2004 Mr. Forster’s daughter took the Jeep out.  She has been drinking at a bar.  After leaving the bar the daughter followed the first rule and did not drink and drive, however she broke her father’s second rule and let a friend drive the vehicle.  As the friend was driving the daughter “wrenched the steering wheel to the right” and caused the vehicle to flip into a ditch resulting in injuries to the occupants.
Various lawsuits were brought.  At trial the daughter, despite being a passenger, was found to be “driving” the vehicle.  She was found to be careless in grabbing the steering wheel with a finding that “t]he only conclusion I can come to on the evidence adduced at trial is that (the daughter’s) intoxication led her to believe that a hazard existed where there was none, or to think that it would be humorous to give the Jeep a shake by grabbing the steering wheel”  The Court went on to find that not only was she liable for the occupants injuries but so was the father as a result of s. 86 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act which holds as follows:
In an action to recover loss or damage sustained by a person by reason of a motor vehicle on a highway, every person driving or operating the motor vehicle who is living with and as a member of the family of the owner of the motor vehicle, and every person driving or operating the motor vehicle who acquired possession of it with the consent, express or implied, of the owner of the motor vehicle, is deemed to be the agent or servant of that owner and employed as such, and is deemed to be driving and operating the motor vehicle in the course of his or her employment.
The father appealed arguing he should not be held liable because the daughter was a passenger at the time and therefore could not have been “driving” the vehicle.
The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and dismissed the appeal.  In doing so the BC Court of Appeal made it clear that s. 86 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act is to be given a broad interpretation because it is intended to “expand the availability of compensation to injured plaintiffs).”  Specifically the BC High Court held as follows:

[21] This Court considered the purposes of s. 86 in Yeung (Guardian ad litem of) v. Au, 2006 BCCA 217, 269 D.L.R. (4th) 727, affirmed 2007 SCC 45. After reviewing the history and context of the section, Madam Justice Newbury commented as follows:

[38] …  the purposes of s. 86 are, I would suggest … to expand the availability of compensation to injured plaintiffs beyond drivers who may be under-insured or judgment-proof, and to encourage employers and other owners to take care in entrusting their vehicles to others.

The Court concluded in that case that a proper interpretation of s. 86 created vicarious liability on lessors of motor vehicles whose drivers are negligent in their operation if the drivers are in possession of the vehicle with the consent of the lessors.

[22] In my opinion, the conclusion that Ms. Forster was driving the Jeep is in accord with the grammatical and ordinary meaning of the language of s. 86 and the object and intention of the Legislature in enacting it. The decision in R. v. Bélanger establishes that a person sitting in the passenger seat of a vehicle can be regarded to be driving the vehicle if he or she controls the direction of the vehicle by turning its steering wheel. It is consistent with the first purpose of s. 86 articulated in Yeung v. Au to conclude that the Legislature intended an owner of a vehicle to be vicariously liable if a person, in possession of the vehicle with the consent of the owner, commits a deliberate, but negligent, act affecting the direction of the vehicle that causes injuries to another person.

[23] I therefore agree with the conclusion of the trial judge that Ms. Forster was driving the Jeep for the purpose of s. 86.

  • Implied Consent

Another interesting point of this judgement was the Court’s discussion of whether the Father consented to the daughter’s friend driving the vehicle.   You will recall that one of the clear rules was that only the daughter was allowed to drive, not her friends.  At trial Mr. Justice Rogers held that the father nonetheless consented to the friend operating the vehicle and provided the following reasons:

[32] Barreiro makes it clear that the policy that drove the result in Morrison extends to situations where the owner gives the keys to its agent and the agent passes the keys on to a third party. Barreiro stands for the proposition that so long as the transfer of car keys from owner to second party is done by an exercise of free will, and the second party gives the keys to a third party by free will, the owner will be deemed to have consented to the third party’s possession of the car.  That will be the result even though the owner and the second party had an understanding that the third party was not to ever get possession of those keys.

[33] In my view, except for the fact that (the owner) obtained no financial benefit from (the driver’s) possession of the Jeep, the present case is not distinguishable from Barreiro.  (the owner) freely gave the Jeep’s keys to (his daughter).  She freely gave the keys to (the driver).  (the owner) must, therefore, be taken to have expressly consented to (the driver’s) possession of the Jeep on the night in issue.

[34] For the same reason, (the owner) must be taken to have expressly consented to (his daughter’s) possession of the Jeep that night, and that is so notwithstanding the fact that she was intoxicated and that her being intoxicated broke the other of (the owner’s rules.

The BC Court of Appeal was asked to overturn this ruling but they refused to do so.  The BC High Court held that, since the driver of the vehicle was not careless (and therefore not responsible for any of the passengers injuries) the issue of whether or not there was consent “is moot and need not be decided on this appeal

You can click here to read my 2008 article discussing the trial judgement.

Registered Vehicle Owners and Fault in BC – A Heavy Burden

(Please note the case discussed in this post was overturned by the BC Court of Appeal.  Please go to the September 2010 Archives of this site to read my article discussing the BC Court of Appeal decision)
The law places a very heavy burden on vehicle owners in BC when their vehicles are involved in an at-fault collision.  In British Columbia registered owners are “vicariously liable for the negligence of the driver where the driver acquired possession of the vehicle with the consent (express or implied) of the owner“.
What this means is, if you let someone else operate your vehicle and they are at fault for a crash then you are at fault for that crash.  Reasons for judgement were released today showing just how far Courts in BC can go in determining the circumstances in which an owner “consents” to someone else operating their vehicle.
In today’s case (Snow v. Friesen) the Plaintiff was seriously injured in Vernon BC when a vehicle owned by a man named Mr. Saul and driven by a woman named Ms. Friesen struck the Plaintiff while walking on a sidewalk.  The Defendant driver apparently fell asleep at the wheel and lost control.
The Court found that Mr. Saul did not intend to let Ms. Friesen borrow his vehicle, he in fact did so by mistake.  Mr. Justice Williams found that Ms. Friesen asked to borrow Mr. Saul’s vehicle but at the time he was busy working and did not hear her because he was hard of hearing and had his hearing aid out.  As a result Mr. Saul mistakenly thought someone else was asking to borrow his vehicle so he granted permission,   Notwithstanding this interesting factual finding the Court went on to find that Mr. Saul was still vicariously liable for the collision because his actions constituted “express consent” under section 86 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act.
The Court’s discussion of the law of liability of registered owners is set out below.  This case is worth reviewing in full for all vehicle owners in British Columbia as it shows the serious duties courts impose on vehicle owners when they let others take possession of their vehicles:

[68] Pursuant to the common law and s. 86 of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318, an owner of a vehicle is vicariously liable for the negligence of the driver where the driver acquired possession of the vehicle with the consent, express or implied, of the owner.

[69] As is apparent from my analysis of the evidence and findings of fact, the implied consent doctrine does not arise in this case.  Instead, the issue stands to be determined on the basis of express consent.  Specifically, it is necessary to decide whether, in these circumstances, the plaintiff has proven that Ms. Friesen had the vehicle with the consent of Mr. Saul.

[70] I consider the following statement of Thackray J.A. in Barreiro v. Arana, 2003 BCCA 58, to be apposite:

[13]      Whether there was consent must be determined by reference to the facts and by the application of general legal principles viewed in the context of the statutory scheme.  The issue of consent is not, as suggested by the trial judge, “defined by s.86”: however the statute is the governing factor.

[71] The cases are replete with reference to the notion of public policy and the necessity of recognizing the legislative intent of s. 86.  Again, I will resort to a quotation from Barreiro:

[26]      The effect that legislative intent has upon the meaning of “consent” is emphasized by the words of Goldie J.A. in Morrison as quoted by the trial judge:

[24]  It is apparent the legislature has imposed a heavy burden on those who have within their power the control of motor vehicles. … The reason for legislative intervention may be traced, in part at least, to the appalling consequences of reckless use of motor vehicles.  Irresponsibility on the part of those who may deny or confer possession of motor vehicles may be seen as the reason for the legislative initiative.  The legislation in question must be regarded as remedial.

[27]      Legislative intention must be acknowledged as having a fundamental purpose and as having been inspired by a need.  As Mr. Justice Goldie said, the legislation is remedial.  As such it might well be at odds with traditional legal concepts of agency, but that will not deny its validity.

[28]      The legislative intent in section 86 must be taken, as noted by Goldie J.A. in Morrison, to address the reckless use of motor vehicles and the section imposes “a heavy burden on those who have within their power the control of motor vehicles.”  In Bareham, Mr. Justice MacDonell, after reviewing the statute, said at 194:

In this case, the only policy reasons to be considered are those in favour of protecting innocent third parties seeking compensation for injuries suffered at the hands of negligent automobile drivers and, vicariously, owners.

[72] A helpful discussion of the importance of bearing in mind the underlying rationale, or legislative purpose, of the legislation is found in Yeung (Guardian ad litem of) v. Au, 2006 BCCA 217, where the matter was touched upon by Newbury J.A., writing for a five judge division of the Court, although the issue there was principally one of determining the liability of an individual who held rights under a conditional sales contract.  Nevertheless, she considered the social and economic policy objectives of the legislation, and the legislative intention.  Her analysis is found at paras. 32 through 38.  I will not reproduce the entire discussion, but consider it worthwhile to quote a portion of her conclusion as found at para. 38:

… the purposes of s. 86 are, I would suggest, similar – to expand the availability of compensation to injured plaintiffs beyond drivers who may be under-insured or judgment-proof, and to encourage employers and other owners to take care in entrusting their vehicles to others.  These objectives are consonant with the objectives of vicarious liability generally, as described by McLachlin J. (now C.J.C.) in Bazley v. Curry [1999] 2 S.C.R. 534, 62 B.C.L.R. (3d) 173, the leading Canadian case on vicarious liability.

[Emphasis added.]

[73] In my view, the outcome which must result in the facts at bar is determined by an application of the leading decision on the issue, Vancouver Motors U-Drive Ltd. v. Terry, [1942] S.C.R. 391.  There, an employee of Vancouver Motors U-Drive Ltd. had rented an automobile to a driver who had no valid licence.  The driver had falsely represented that he was another person, and showed that person’s valid driver’s licence.  He signed that person’s name to the rental agreement.  The driver was subsequently involved in an accident, and the appellant argued that it was not vicariously liable because the negligent driver had not acquired possession of the car with the appellant’s consent.  In interpreting a legislative provision similar to s. 86 of the Motor Vehicle Act, Kerwin J., for the majority, stated as follows:

In the present case, the appellant physically transferred the possession of the motor vehicle to Walker. Does the fact of Walker’s false statement that he was Hindle and the holder of a subsisting driver’s licence, accompanied by the forgery of Hindle’s name, vitiate the consent that was in fact given? There may be no difficulty in two of the hypothetical cases put in argument, (1) where a motor vehicle is stolen from a garage, and (2) where possession is obtained from the owner by duress. In the first there would be no consent in fact and in the second the owner would not have been at liberty to exercise his free will. On the other hand, the class of owners under subsection 1 of section 74A is not restricted to those who carry on such a business as the appellant and circumstances may be imagined where an owner loaned his automobile to a friend on the latter’s statement that he possessed a subsisting driver’s licence, which statement might be false either because he never had possessed such a licence or because his current licence had been revoked; or again, where A secured possession of an automobile by falsely representing himself in a telephone conversation with the owner of the vehicle to be a neighbour’s chauffeur. It is impossible to conceive all the various circumstances that might give rise to the question to be determined here but in my view an express consent is given, within the meaning of the enactment, when possession was acquired as the result of the free exercise of the owner’s will.

[74] Later, Kerwin J. reached the following conclusion:

The word “consent” may have different meanings in different statutes. In the present case it has, in my opinion, the meaning already indicated and, on that construction, express consent was given by the employees of the appellant to Walker’s possession of the motor vehicle even though the action of the employees was induced by Walker’s false statements.

[75] In this case, Mr. Saul, of his own free will, absent duress or theft, gave consent to the person who asked to use the motor vehicle.  The fact that Mr. Saul was mistaken as to the identity of that individual does not change the outcome.

[76] In Vancouver Motors U-Drive, consent was not vitiated even though the agent/employee was misled as to the identity of the person renting the car.  In Bareham (Guardian ad litem of) v. Desrochers, [1994] B.C.J. No. 1826, 97 B.C.L.R. (2d) 186 (S.C.), on an application of the same principle, the mother of the driver argued that she had not consented to her son having her vehicle because she was not aware that he had no driving licence.  The trial judge there, Macdonell J., found that once the mother gave consent, the fact that her son was driving her car illegally was irrelevant to the application of s. 86(1).

[77] The erroneous basis upon which Mr. Saul granted his consent is no defence.  The onus was on him to ensure the public safety in lending his truck.  The statute imposes a duty upon him, which duty includes knowing and assessing the fitness of the driver who seeks to have his vehicle.  The heavy burden which is imposed upon motor vehicle owners was not met.

[78] In the present case, Mr. Saul did not take steps to confirm the identity of the person who sought to use his vehicle, other than relying upon what turned out to be the assumption of Mr. Connolly.

[79] The focus of the analysis is on whether the owner gave express consent to the individual who seeks to have the vehicle.  Once that is found, as the facts of that case indicate, there is not a great deal which will impact upon the imposition of liability.

[80] While judicial interpretation of s. 86(1) may, at first glance, appear overly strict, as Paris J. stated in Beaudoin v. Enviro-Vac Systems Inc., [1992] B.C.J. No. 205, 1992 CanLII 444 (S.C.), at para. 13:

The Legislature has placed a very heavy onus on the owner of a motor vehicle who chooses to permit another to drive it. Whether that policy is or is not draconian is not for me to say.

[81] I have no doubt that the outcome here may seem harsh from the perspective of Mr. Saul.  However, holding him liable fits within the purpose of s. 86(1) and the manner in which it has been applied.  From a broader policy perspective, it fits within what has been found to be the most efficient and effective risk allocation from both an economic and public safety perspective, two elements that are central to s. 86(1).

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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