A farmer’s action for damages for bodily injuries and accident benefits arising out of an accident that occurred while he was driving an uninsured all-terrain vehicle on a public road was statute barred by virtue of the operation of Ontario’s 267.6(1) of the Insurance Act and s. 30(1)(a) of the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule. Although it was exclusively used as a farming vehicle, the ATV did not qualify as a self-propelled implement of husbandry and therefore did not fall within an exception to the compulsory motor vehicle insurance scheme in the province.
Matheson v. Lewis, 2014] O.J. No. 3304, July 11, 2014, Ontario Court of Appeal, R.G. Juriansz, M.H. Tulloch and G.R. Strathy JJ.A.
A farmer was driving an uninsured all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on a public road. He was en route to check on his sheep when he was struck by a truck driven by a third party, resulting in catastrophic injuries to the farmer.
The farmer and his family, the Matheson plaintiffs, commenced an action and brought a motion before trial to determine whether their action was statute-barred by virtue of the operation of s. 267.6(1) of the Insurance Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. I.8. This section provides that a person is not entitled to recover damages for bodily injury or death arising from the use or operation of an automobile, if, at the time of the incident, the person was operating an uninsured motor vehicle on a highway contrary to section 2(1) of the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act, R.S.O. 1990 c. C.25.
The plaintiffs also sought a declaration that the claims against the farmer’s insurer were not foreclosed by the operation of s. 30(1)(a) of the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule, O. Reg. 403/96, which provides that an insurer is not required to pay various benefits in respect of an injured driver who knew or ought to reasonably have known that he or she was operating an automobile without motor vehicle liability insurance.
The motions judge found that the ATV was a self-propelled implement of husbandry and was therefore excluded from Ontario’s compulsory insurance regime. Consequently, neither s. 267.6(1) of the Insurance Act nor s. 30(1)(a) of the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule applied to bar the plaintiffs’ claims. The defendant insurers appealed this decision.
The Court of Appeal unanimously overturned the motion judge’s decision. The appellate court held that the ATV was not a self-propelled implement of husbandry but an off-road vehicle that had to be insured when operated by a farmer on a public road, barring the plaintiff respondents’ claims.
Noting that a principle of statutory interpretation is that there is a presumption of harmony, coherence, and consistency between statutes dealing with the same subject matter, Juriansz J.A., writing for the court, reviewed the legislative scheme governing motor vehicle insurance in Ontario. The ATV was specifically designated as an “off-road vehicle” under the Off Road Vehicles Act, R.R.O. 1990, c. O.4. This act prohibited a person from driving off-road vehicles driven on land not occupied by the owner unless it is insured under a motor vehicle liability policy. The Highway Traffic Act, O. Reg. 316/03 required that an off-road vehicle not be operated on a highway unless it is insured in accordance with s. 2 of the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act and s. 15 of the Off-Road Vehicles Act. In light of the overall legislative scheme, the court concluded that the farmer’s ATV could not have been both an off-road vehicle that required insurance when operated on land not occupied by the owner and at the same time a self-propelled implement of husbandry that was excluded from Ontario’s compulsory insurance regime. The fact that the ATV was classified as an off-road vehicle under the Off Road Vehicles Act led to the immediate conclusion that the ATV was not a self-propelled implement of husbandry.
The court also interpreted the subject legislation by having regard to the ordinary meaning of “self-propelled implement of husbandry”. The court accepted the definition of farming vehicle as articulated in R. v. Vanberlo,  O.J. No. 1307 at para 17, which is that it is “a vehicle that is ‘manufactured’ or ‘designed’ for a specific use in farming, has an objectively discernible character or function that does not depend at all on the particular use intended by the end user”. Although an ATV may be ideally suited for and widely used to carry out many farming tasks, the court found that it was not a “self-propelled implement of husbandry” because it was not designed or manufactured for the specific use of farming.
Juriansz, J.A. also examined the purpose of Ontario’s compulsory insurance regime, which is to protect innocent victims of automobile accidents from having no means of seeking damages from persons who might have caused those damages without having the protection of automobile insurance. The legislative means of ensuring universal insurance would be rendered nugatory if they were made applicable only to those who caused accidents. Such persons would not be successful in recovering damages in an action in any event. The clear legislative intent was that the prospect of not being able to recover damages or statutory accident benefits gave vehicle owners good reasons to purchase insurance before any accident has taken place.
The Court of Appeal also found that the meaning of “automobile” in the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule included the ATV, and therefore also barring the plaintiffs’ claim for statutory accident benefits.
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