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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Ottawa Court Case with Long Tentacles

There is a court case just settled in Ottawa that has ominous implications for the trucking industry.

The background is a bunch of young people, students at Carleton University were out on a pub crawl. They all piled into one of the student’s SUV, all drunk. As it turned out, the driver of the SUV had a blood alcohol level just over three times the legal limit but the driver didn’t have a full licence therefore was a driver subjected to the zero tolerance rule.

Now, because this young driver was drunk, the insurance company can and did exercise it’s right to deny coverage. The law allows insurance companies that when a criminal act is being committed the coverage that vehicle may have had under normal operation, being involved in a criminal act the insurance company isn’t responsible. As we all know, drunk driving is a criminal act therefore the insurance companies always deny coverage.

In this particular case, the SUV collided severely with a OCTranspo bus. The driver of the SUV was killed along with some of his passengers. The driver of the bus was also injured. But what happened next, in court, is the disgrace.

The court ruled that because the driver of the bus was speeding — 66 KmPH in a 60 KmPH — the bus driver was 20% responsible for the wreck. Because the insurance companies were absolved of responsibility because of a criminal act and because the driver of the SUV was without assets the families of the dead and injured, even the driver of the SUV were allowed to sue The City of Ottawa, the owners of OCTranspo and they were able to sue the driver of the bus, because — get this — because he was a professional driver.

Commercial drivers can’t get recognition for being a skilled trade, which they are for sure, but the courts rule that because he was a professional driver he should be held to a higher standard and should have expected the unexpected. Talk about a commercial driver being a looser all ways.

For those trucking companies self insured, does the criminal act absolve them of responsibility?

To add insult to injury, the family of the driver of the SUV sued the City of Ottawa for in excess of $2,000,000 and won as did the other families involved. Even on appeal, the appellate court ruled against the City. The reasoning? Wait for it!. Because the City of Ottawa has deep pockets, the City of Ottawa must pay the judgement PLUS all the court costs. It’s not clear how much money the bus driver is going to be compelled to pay but he was also named in the law suit separately from the City of Ottawa.

The implication for trucking is obvious. Those with the deepest pockets are held the most responsible. Make sure as a commercial driver you drive strictly legal, ensure you have a dash cam to back up your truth, and most of all don’t ever admit even a hint of responsibility. Let them prove it in court.