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Life Insurance Payout Denied

Some life insurance policies include an exclusion where the policy holder has died while committing a crime or died "as a result of" criminal activity. In such circumstances payout under the policy will be denied by the insurer.

This is precisely what happened to Vanessa Valentyne when she sought payment under her son's life insurance policy from The Canada Life Assurance Company. Vanessa's son, Kevin, was a known drug dealer. In 2013 he was out for lunch with his girlfriend when he was summoned to a house by two of his associates. He drove to the location and left his girlfriend in the running car while he stepped inside the house. He was never seen or heard from again.

Four years later, a British Columbia Supreme Court justice has upheld the insurer's refusal to issue payment under the policy on the grounds that the exclusion applied: "I need only be satisfied on a balance of probabilities that his death was a result of his involvement in criminal activity," wrote Justice Catherine Murray. "The only rational conclusion is that Mr. Valentyne was murdered as a result of his involvement in drug trafficking, a criminal offence."

You can read more about the interesting facts underlying this decision here and here.

Always Report Accidents to Your Insurer to Protect Your Rights

There are several things that you have to do in order to protect yourself after you have been involved in an automobile accident. One of these things is that you must report the accident to your insurance representative. This reporting requirement is mandatory because of the Highway Traffic Act. One section in the standard Ontario Auto Policy, section 1.4, notes that the reporting requirement is mandatory whether you are planning on filing a claim or not.

In some cases, such as with minor accidents, it is possible that you and the other party might decide to handle the damages through a personal agreement. Have you thought about what would happen if the other party doesn't pay as agreed upon? Unless you report the accident to your insurance company, you might not be able to have the damages covered unless you pay for them out of pocket. It is possible for your insurance company to deny coverage in this instance.

All collision centres have phone lines to make it easy for you to file a claim. While it might be tempting to skip that step, you are actually breaking a contract with your insurance company if you fail to report every car crash that you have. When you got the insurance policy, you agreed in writing to report all accidents.

Another consideration occurs if you don't report an accident, but the other party ultimately reports the accident. In that case, your insurance company will likely find out about the accident in that manner. Ultimately, reporting your accident is one way to protect yourself after the accident.

Source:, "Always tell your insurer about an accident", Perry Lefko, April 29, 2016.
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Should I Insure My ATV?

It’s surprising (to Wolfe Lawyers, at least) how many people do not insure their all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) under a policy of automobile insurance.

One such person was Arthur Matheson, a farmer who used his ATV to patrol his 900-acre property upon which he raised cattle and sheep. Mr. Matheson’s farm abutted a public roadway at various locations and he fell into the habit of using his ATV on this roadway to check his sheep. While doing so one day he was struck from behind by a truck. Unfortunately, he suffered serious injuries as a result. The driver who struck him fled the scene but was subsequently located and convicted of careless driving, obstruction of justice, and breach of probation.

Mr. Matheson commenced a lawsuit against the driver. Unfortunately, even though the accident was clearly not his fault, Mr. Matheson learned a very difficult lesson about the law in Ontario: Section 267.6 of the Insurance Act prevents a person from commencing an action for damages for bodily injury when that person has contravened Section 2(1) of the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act. That section states that no owner or lessee of a motor vehicle shall operate or permit the operation of a motor vehicle on a highway (i.e., a public road) unless that vehicle is insured under a contract of automobile insurance. Mr. Matheson tried to utilize an exception to this rule that applies to farmers but failed.

Consequently, Mr. Matheson’s lawsuit was statute-barred, meaning he was prevented from suing the at-fault driver even though the collision was not his fault. The full decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal can be read here.

The moral of the story? Insure your ATV.
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Meet Your New Big Brother!

Recently a number of automobile insurance companies in Ontario have been marketing lower rates to drivers in exchange for installing GPS devices in their vehicles. These devices can monitor and track a variety of driving parameters such as where and when you drive, speed, acceleration, and braking. The idea is that “good drivers” are rewarded with lower insurance premiums. What defines a “good driver” is something that can probably be debated. But insurance companies presumably work from the assumption that those who obey the speed limit and gently accelerate and decelerate are “good drivers”.

While the idea of allowing someone to continuously monitor your driving habits may seem offensive to some Ontarian's, the approach is (somewhat surprisingly) gaining traction in the United Kingdom, United States, and even some provinces in Canada like Quebec. Although insurance companies generally promise that the driving information they gather will never be used for anything but assessing premiums, one wonders what would happen if they were, for example, forced to hand over the information to a third party such as the police as part of a collision investigation.

David Booth has recently authored an interesting article that explores some of these issues. You can find it here.

Zantingh v. Jerry - A Lesson For Dog Owners

The reasons delivered by Justice Leach in the recent decision of Zantingh v. Jerry provides a thoughtful and informative look at dog owner liability in Ontario.

Hudson Zantingh was only 3-years-old when he was attacked by his neighbour’s dog - a German-Shepherd/Rottweiler mix named “Bear”. Hudson lived in a rural area with his mother and 5-year-old brother Cooper. There was no fence or other barrier separating Hudson’s property from his neighbour, who was in the habit of chaining Bear to a tree on his property. On October 30, 2010 Hudson was out in his yard playing with his brother while his mother raked leaves. His neighbour had gone out for dinner and left Bear chained to a tree as usual. Hudson’s mother went inside to turn off a crockpot and in that brief moment Hudson’s brother Cooper accidentally kicked a ball over to the neighbour’s property. Hudson went to retrieve it and was savagely attacked by Bear, who had never exhibited any aggressive behaviour in the past. Hudson’s mother managed to save Hudson by pulling him beyond the reach of Bear’s chain (not without getting bitten herself). Hudson sustained serious lacerations to his face and scalp.

Justice Leach conducted a thorough review of the law in arriving at his decision. This started with a discussion of the common law requirement that a plaintiff prove that the defendant dog owner had prior knowledge of his dog’s propensity to commit vicious harm. As Justice Leach stated, this “gave rise to the old saw that ‘every dog was entitled to one bite’ before liability would be imposed”. The common law was displaced by the enactment of the Dog Owner’s Liability Act, which eliminated the requirement to prove prior knowledge of the dog’s propensity for violence. Instead, the dog owner - regardless of his culpability or the dog’s history - is automatically liable for damages occasioned by his dog’s actions. However, the Dog Owner’s Liability Act does include a provision that permits those damages to be reduced if the plaintiff’s own fault or negligence caused or contributed to those damages.

This is precisely what the dog owner in Zantingh tried to argue. Specifically, it was argued that perhaps the children had provoked the dog or, alternatively, Hudson’s mother was negligent for failing to adequately supervise her children. Both arguments were rejected due to the absence of evidence. Indeed, the evidence indicated that Hudson’s mother was watching over the children quite closely the afternoon of the attack. The fact that she stepped into the kitchen for 2-3 minutes was not negligent, particularly since there was no indication that the neighbour’s dog posed a threat.

The decision entire decision can be read here.
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