Understanding Vehicle Damage Claims in Car Accidents

Winter is here!  There is no question that with the recent onslaught of snow squalls hitting Ontario we are having a wet and icy winter.  With the snow and ice come poor road conditions, and poor road conditions demand greater responsibility from all motorists.  Yet, inevitably, there will be bad drivers and car accidents.  What can you do to protect yourself from being at fault in an accident and seeing increases in your insurance policy?

The starting place is to be aware that when it comes to vehicle damage resulting from a car accident, someone is always deemed to be “at-fault” – whether partly or fully. The law in Ontario requires insurance companies to assign the percentage of fault for each of the drivers involved in an accident. This is done by using the “Fault Determination Rules” under Ontario Law.  The rules codify who will be at fault and who will ultimately be responsible for the accident.  The rules provide detailed diagrams and descriptions for a wide variety of accidents, leaving little to any other interpretation.   Familiarizing with the Fault Determination Rules and the Ontario Highway Traffic Act will help make you aware of your obligations as a driver.

Indeed, it is always best to drive cautiously and this notion especially holds true when the weather makes doing so more difficult.  It is recommended that all drivers read Fault Determination Rules and the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and become familiar with the various rules in order to avoid finding themselves in an at fault situation and seeing their insurance premiums rise, or worse, finding themselves in an accident causing injury.

For example, s. 6 details ‘rear-end’ collisions and says that the vehicle that rear-ends the other vehicle is 100% responsible and that the person who was ‘rear-ended’ is NOT at fault.  What is important to know about all of the fault rules is that they are determined without considering things like the circumstances in which the incident occurs, the weather conditions, the road conditions, a driver’s visibility or the actions of pedestrians.  These other factors are simply irrelevant for this purpose.  Therefore, although the roads may become far worse in the winter, drivers cannot rely on the road conditions as an excuse for why they struck another vehicle.  If you rear-end someone, you will be 100% responsible for their property damage – end of story.  If you hit a patch of black ice and begin to skid and rear-end someone, you will be 100% responsible.  If you were traveling behind a vehicle and you were both doing 80 km/h and the vehicle in front of you suddenly, for no apparent reason, slams on its brakes and you rear-end it, you are liable.  If you were driving along and if you begin to fishtail and your vehicle spins out, goes over the centerline and into the oncoming traffic lane, then you are liable.  The patch of black ice, the other driver’s actions, and your inability to stop because of snow, will not suffice as defences.

In addition to one’s insurance premiums rising as a result of being at fault in an accident, you may also be charged under the Highway Traffic Act.  Speeding, eating while driving, not properly removing snow or frost from your windows, driving while operating a cell phone, may all amount to charges under the  Highway Traffic Act.  Charges laid by the police are determined separately and independently from the Fault Rules, but at the end of the day these charges can cost you money, legal fees and increase your insurance coverage.

Ultimately, by understanding these rules and driving cautiously you can avoid being at fault and avoid being responsible for the property damage.  If you are involved in an accident and it is determined that you are at fault,  either completely or partially, it will go on your insurance record and you will likely have to pay a lot more for your coverage at your next renewal date.  It is also important to note that if a car accident occurs and there are injuries, responsibility for the injuries is determined independently and separately from responsibility for the vehicle damage.  In other words, the fault rules have nothing to do with liability in the case of bodily injury.

When the weather increases the chances for accidents, then the bottom line is that you must drive slower and more carefully to ensure that you can control your vehicle in all circumstances and stop in time.  All car accidents should be avoided for obvious reasons and being determined at fault, by either one’s insurer or the police, is a situation to be avoided and an event that can become costly.  It is always best to drive cautiously and this notion especially holds true when the weather makes doing so more difficult.  To avoid an accident and being found at fault, you must act reasonably in all circumstances and abide by the laws of the Highway Traffic Act.

For those interested in familiarizing themselves with the Fault Rules, please refer to the Province of Ontario’s most recent edition of Ontario Regulation 668.  It is recommended that all drivers read it and become familiar with the various rules in order to avoid finding themselves in an at fault situation and seeing their insurance premiums rise.

As always, though this article intends to give you a basic overview of the law, it is never a substitute for consulting your lawyer.  If you or someone you know was injured in a car accident, you are advised to discuss your legal options with a personal injury lawyer.

Nigel Gilby is a partner and injury lawyer at the London, Ontario law firm of Lerners LLP.  Nigel specializes in assisting people injured in car accidents, accident benefits cases, catastrophic injuries, brain injuries, slips and falls, off-road vehicle accidents, boating accidents and other serious personal injury cases.  He has been recognized by LEXPERT and the Law Society of Upper Canada as a specialist in Civil Litigation. Nigel has been selected by his peers to appear in the “Best Lawyers in Canada” publication since its inception. See Nigel’s professional biography for more information about his work in the area of personal injury law or contact him at 519.640.6328 or by email at ngilby@lerners.ca.

Christopher Dawson is an injury lawyer at the London, Ontario law firm of Lerners LLP.  Christopher’s personal injury practice includes assisting people injured in motor vehicle accidents, accident benefit cases, spinal cord injuries, orthopaedic injuries, injuries as a result of defective products, off-road vehicle accidents, boating accidents and other serious injury cases.  See Christopher’s professional biography for more information about his work in the area of personal injury law or contact him at 519.640.6360 or by email at cdawson@lerners.ca.

Christopher Dawson

Nigel Gilby

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