There are special circumstances which may result in a passenger being held liable for injuries sustained following a motor vehicle accident. Typically, motor vehicle accidents occur primarily as the result of negligent drivers.
That said, there are some cases where the passenger can be held fully or partially liable for an accident.
McKay v Park (2019, ONCA) provides an important example of a lawsuit brought against a passenger. Ms. Park, the defendant driver in the subject motor vehicle accident, sought to have Ms. McKay’s personal injury lawsuit dismissed against her by advancing arguments that someone else or her passenger, Ms. McKay, were entirely responsible for the accident. Ms. Park’s lawyers argued that the accident was as a direct result of an argument Ms. Park was having with her passenger, Mr. Hnatiuk, who in an unsolicited, sudden movement, reached to grab the steering wheel from the driver, Ms. Park, while her vehicle was in operation causing her vehicle to collide with another.
Under section 192(2) of the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, an owner is held to be vicariously liable, that is responsible for the driver’s actions “unless the motor vehicle… was, without the owner’s consent, in the possession of some person other than the owner.” Ms. Park used this statutory wording to successfully argue that Mr. Hnatiuk effectively took possession, care and control of the use and operation of the car without Ms. Park’s consent, a circumstance which exempted Ms. Park, as the driver, from any liability. Mr. Hnatiuk’s actions were not requested, consented to or permitted by Ms. Park at any time prior to the subject collision.
In the context of this case, the concept of vicarious liability suggests that owners of vehicles may generally be found liable for the negligent actions of its driver but not in situations where its driver is not at fault. As noted in Moushi v. Stephen (2019, ONSC), the vicarious liability of any vehicle owner will not extend to the owner where there is no evidence of any negligent entrustment of the vehicle by the driver to the passenger.
In addition to the argument of vicarious liability, Ms. Park’s insurer, TD Home and Auto, attempted to argue that Ms. Park was distracted by what was happening around her inside her vehicle and, in this manner, was negligent while driving. Despite these submissions, this claim was dismissed, as the Appeal judge found it was not foreseeable that the passenger would suddenly grab the wheel and substantially interfere with Ms. Park’s ability to drive safely. There was no prior history of Ms. Park driving negligently in any manner.