Can a Passenger be at Fault in a Windsor, Ontario Car Accident?

woman's hands on steering wheelCould a passenger cause a car crash? What if the passenger grabbed the steering wheel and took control of the car?

Below, we discuss passenger liability for an auto accident in Ontario, including the McKay v. Park case. This is a case from 2013 that reached an Ontario Superior Court, and it involved a passenger grabbing the steering wheel from the driver.

If you have questions about liability for a collision in Windsor or elsewhere in Ontario, our experienced Windsor car accident lawyers are here to help. If you were injured and suffered damages, we may be able to seek compensation on your behalf.

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Are You Liable for Passengers in Your Car?

Generally, drivers are found liable for Ontario car accidents because they have control over their vehicles. That is why drivers cannot blame a crash on a passenger who distracted them. For example, maybe a driver was engaged in a heated argument with the front seat passenger just before causing a crash.

You may have been distracted by something else a passenger was doing, like changing the radio station or adjusting settings on the dashboard. However, if you cause a crash, you would be at fault and not the passenger. Allowing yourself to be distracted is an example of negligence, and negligent actions that cause injuries and damages to others are the basis for injury claims.

You could argue that drivers are usually going to be held liable for the actions of their passengers. That is, unless there are special circumstances where you could argue a passenger had control of the vehicle and not the driver.

Can a Passenger be Held Liable for an Auto Accident in Ontario?

While every Windsor car accident needs to be analyzed on its own, there may be one scenario where a passenger could be held liable for a crash. If a passenger grabbed the steering wheel, and the driver did not expect the passenger to do this, the passenger could be held liable. This was the conclusion of an Ontario Superior Court in the McKay v. Park case from 2013.

McKay v. Park Case: Ontario Superior Court Holds Passenger Liable for Crash Damages

This court case resulted from an auto accident in August 2013.

How the Crash Happened

One of the vehicles involved in the accident was being driven by a woman whose boyfriend was in the front passenger seat next to her.

As they were driving, they got into an argument, and the boyfriend grabbed the steering wheel. This resulted in the car spinning and colliding with another vehicle. The occupant of the other vehicle, a woman, suffered severe injuries.

The victim of the crash filed a lawsuit against the girlfriend and her boyfriend, holding them liable for damages. The driver had insurance from State Farm while the boyfriend did not have any coverage. The victim had insurance from TD Home and Auto Insurance.

When the lawsuit got to court, State Farm argued the passenger was the only one responsible because he grabbed the wheel without permission from the driver. However, TD Home and Auto Insurance’s argument was that State Farm was not handling the claim in good faith.

How the Case was Decided

The case was decided in December of 2018, more than five years after the accident. The Superior Court judge chose to allow the motion from State Farm for summary judgment in favor of the girlfriend. That meant the boyfriend was the sole liable party and State Farm was not liable for damages.

Justice McArthur did not rule on whether State Farm was acting in bad faith with its arguments. Justice McArthur ruled there was not a genuine issue that required a trial.

The Girlfriend Was Not in Possession of the Car

Justice McArthur said a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada from 1970 established the girlfriend was not in possession of the car when the accident happened. The 1970 case, Belanger v. The Queen, involved someone grabbing the steering wheel in a police car, turned it left and caused a fatal head-on collision with another vehicle. Justice McArthur said this is almost exactly what happened in the 2013 car accident.

The Superior Court rejected the argument made by TD that the girlfriend had contributory negligence. It was TD’s position that it was reasonably foreseeable that the boyfriend might grab the steering wheel. TD noted the boyfriend had a history of being impulsive and violent with his girlfriend.

However, Justice McArthur pointed out the boyfriend had never grabbed or attempted to grab the steering wheel in the past. Despite the boyfriend’s violent actions toward the girlfriend, those violent actions did not put his life or the lives or other vehicle occupants in danger.

Are There Other Situations When a Passenger Could be Held Liable?

One of the main takeaways from the McKay v. Park case is that if a passenger takes control of the steering wheel without the driver’s consent, and this action was not reasonably foreseeable, the passenger could be liable if a crash occurs.

If a passenger takes control of the brakes, accelerator or gear shift without consent from the driver, and a crash occurs, it might be possible for the passenger to be held liable. Passengers might also be held liable if they do something else that interferes with the driver’s ability to safely operate the vehicle, such as:

  • Putting a hand over the driver’s eyes
  • Grabbing the driver and making it difficult to control the vehicle

What if a Passenger Encouraged a Driver Who was Unfit to Drive?

Passengers might be at fault for encouraging drivers to drive while they are intoxicated. Although the passenger is not operating the car, he or she is partially responsible for a drunk driver being on the road. The passenger also agreed to allow the drunk driver to drive him or her somewhere.

What if the Driver Allowed the Passenger to Take Control?

If the driver allows the passenger to take control of the car and a crash happens, the driver is still likely to be held liable. For example, this might happen if the driver has some personal grooming to attend to or he or she is eating or drinking something. Despite giving up control of the car, the driver could still be at fault for a crash.

Contact Greg Monforton and Partners to Discuss Your Claim

After a car crash, there are many issues that need to be addressed. Not only are you going to need medical treatment, but you are also going to need compensation for the cost of that treatment and other damages.

If you were a driver or passenger injured in a car crash, one of the most important things you can do is contact an experienced lawyer. The lawyers at Greg Monforton and Partners have been advocating for crash victims for more than 40 years.

There are no upfront fees for our services, which means we do not get paid unless we win compensation.

Greg Monforton and Partners is here to help. Call us: (866) 320-4770.