ATV accidents

Navigating Trails… Not Trials

If you are like me, summer might be your favourite time of year. The days are long and sunny, the weather is generally pleasant, and there is a variety of outdoor activities that are available to you. The summer days bring out a lot of nostalgia for my younger days. I often reminisce of those years, when I spent many summers out with a group of friends riding ATVs on off-road trails. We would ride through the bush, sometimes on familiar trails, other times on new ones. It was definitely quite the thrill and there was always a sense of adventure. That being said, we were very fortunate to have avoided any serious injuries. But, if I’m being honest, there were definitely some close calls.

What makes off-road vehicles so much fun is the fact that you can take them on relatively rugged terrain and you are open and able to take in the surroundings of the area that you are travelling through. Unfortunately, with that exposure, comes the added risk that should you be in an unfortunate accident, you are less protected and at a greater risk for suffering injury. Off-road vehicles are heavy and powerful pieces of machinery. It does not take much for there to be a sudden error, leading to an accident, roll-over or any other loss of control. At this time of year, there is a spike in off-road vehicle accidents, likely due to recreational users.

The law requires that you wear an approved motorcycle helmet, and it cannot be emphasized enough that you wear as much protective gear as possible. If you are travelling with a group of people, you will want to ensure that you have a system in place as to who leads and who follows and to ensure that each of you are watching out for each other and collisions are minimized. In addition, it is always better to be safe than sorry, and if you are heading out to a remote location, you should make sure that no matter what, someone who is at home knows where you are going and when they can expect to see you back. That way, in the event of a tragedy, where you might not return home and are unable to contact your safeguard, that person would know how to come look after you or send out a rescue party, preventing you from being stranded.

Despite being a great pastime, off-road vehicles such as ATV’s, four-wheelers, utility-terrain vehicles, and all of the other makes and brands that fall under this category come with unique rules and regulations that must be followed. To say the least, the law in this regard is very convoluted. There is interplay among various different legislation, such as the Off-road Vehicles Act, the Highway Traffic Act, the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act and the Insurance Act. To make it ever murkier, there is case law that provides interpretation of how those laws interplay, making it admittedly very hard for the average Ontarian to understand their legal obligations. The location one might be riding an off-road vehicle and how one will be using that vehicle is one of the first considerations that has to be considered. Depending on one’s intended use of their off-road vehicle, such as if he or she would intend to only use it on their own property, or he or she intends to drive it on a road, will require them to fulfill different licensing and registration obligations, as well as insurance obligations.

If you are an off-road vehicle owner or user, you should contact your Insurance Company or companies and make sure that you fully canvass with your insurer how you use your off-road and ensure that you have proper Insurance coverage for all situations in which you might use your off-road vehicle.

In 2014, the Ontario Court of Appeal heard the case of Matheson v Lewis, which dealt with insurance obligations when driving an ATV/off-road vehicle on a roadway. In that case, it was argued that the vehicle was being used for farm purposes and pursuant to other legislation it was not required to be insured under an automobile policy in that circumstance. The Ontario Court of Appeal found that the ATV was not a farm vehicle and, therefore, it was required to be insured by an automobile policy, and further that when the accident happened on a roadway and Mr. Matheson’s ATV was uninsured, he was in contravention of the law. Mr. Matheson’s law contravention was devastating to him; the Court’s ruling found him stripped of his right to start up a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, as well as he was barred from claiming certain accident benefits. In many ways, the Court of Appeal has been made the waters surrounding this area of law more murky. Many people are unfamiliar with the decision and certainly would not appreciate that if they operate their off-road vehicle on a roadway and it is not insured under an automobile policy, and an unfortunate event happens, even where they are not at-fault for the accident in any way, there is a risk that they would be found in contravention of the law.

If you are injured in an ATV/off-road vehicle accident, it is always worth your time to call a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer. The law is constantly changing in how it accommodates these types of cases. Depending on the nature of the accident, you may be able to pursue a claim against at-fault parties. In addition, in some circumstances, you may also be able to claim accident benefits or no-fault benefits through automobile insurance.

Most personal injury lawyers will offer a free, no obligation consultation and it makes sense to take them up on it.

To me, summer always seems to fly by quickly. But before rushing out into any type of off-road vehicle adventure, please do take all safety precautions and ensure that you are well insured and in compliance with the law. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

Christopher Dawson

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