Matheson v. Lewis, 2014 ONCA 542

Keywords: insurance, farm, ATV, uninsured

Synopsis: The Respondent farmer, Matheson, was injured while driving an insured ATV on a public road when he was rear-ended by a truck. The issue was whether an unmodified ATV owned by a farmer and used in farm operations was a “self-propelled implement of husbandry” and therefore not subject to the province’s compulsory motor vehicle liability insurance regime. The motion judge found the ATV was self-propelled implement of husbandry and therefore excluded from Ontario’s compulsory insurance regime. This meant the Respondent’s claim was not barred by statute for being uninsured. The C.A. allowed the appeal on the basis 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.” (para. 5)

Importance: This case demonstrates the limits of statutory interpretation and the ability of courts to employ creative interpretations to avoid harsh civil penalties. Juriansz J.A. for a unanimous court wrote at para. 22:

“The motion judge correctly identified the purpose of the legislation before him but then adopted an interpretation that failed to give effect to that purpose. He considered matters that were not pertinent to the exercise of statutory interpretation: whether the regulatory definitions were out of date, the views of the farming community, and the fact that Mr. Matheson was not at fault in the accident. Consequently, he lost sight of the goal of determining the intent of the legislature.”

He went on to state that the role of the court is to interpret and apply legislation and no rule of statutory interpretation “allows a court to decline to apply legislation that in its opinion has not kept pace with changes in society” (para. 23). In the end it was the battle of “broader legislative goals”: allowing an innocent victim of a motor vehicle accident to seek damages against an insured person versus protecting innocent victims by promoting compulsory insurance.

Counsel for Appellant (Lanark Mutual Insurance Company): Stephen Appotive & Meghan O’Halloran (Hamilton Appotive LLP, Ottawa)

Counsel for Appellant (GMAC Leasco Limited): Paul Muirhead for Gary Wayne Lewis (Williams, McEnery, Ottawa)

Counsel for Respondent: Robert Houston, Q.C. (Burke-Robertson LLP, Ottawa)

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