Unfortunately, thousands of people are hurt in motor vehicle accidents in Ontario every year. Some types of vehicles, such as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), have developed a reputation for a high risk of causing severe injuries

This article looks at whether a person may be held liable for lending someone a vehicle in circumstances where they are subsequently injured. We also look at a recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision in which a woman suffered a severe brain injury after the ATV she was riding struck a tree. Her boyfriend’s father owned the vehicle.

Is there a duty of care when lending a motor vehicle?

To bring a successful negligence claim, the injured plaintiff needs to show that:

  • the defendant owed them a duty of care;
  • the defendant breached the standard of care; and 
  • the breach of the standard of care caused or materially contributed to the injury.

Courts have recognized a duty of care whenever a person allows another to operate a motorized vehicle in circumstances where they knew or should have known that the person was unfit or otherwise unable to operate it safely. This includes off-road vehicles, such as ATVs and snowmobiles.

However, courts “do not expect omniscience, prescience or clairvoyance.” A duty of care is established only where what happened was a natural and probable result of what the alleged wrongdoer did or failed to do. 

Plaintiff injured after crashing boyfriend’s father’s ATV

In Desrochers v McGinnis, the plaintiff suffered a severe brain injury following an ATV accident on a semi-dark evening. The plaintiff’s boyfriend drove the ATV, with her as a passenger, to an intersection. The plaintiff then rode the ATV alone in the direction of her boyfriend’s parent’s property while her boyfriend followed in a pickup truck. The plaintiff left the road and hit a tree at a corner following a rise.

She did not have a driver’s licence but had ridden the ATV at the property. The plaintiff sued her boyfriend and his parents. At the time of the accident, the father was not at home, but the mother was present. She told her son and the plaintiff to wear helmets, which they did not do.

Plaintiff argued it was unsafe for her to operate the ATV

The plaintiff argued that the defendants owed her a duty of care. She claimed that she had no previous experience driving motorized vehicles, that she received little guidance, that they were aware of her lack of experience as well as her mental instability and substance abuse, and that, considering all this information and the condition of the road, it was unsafe for her to operate the ATV.

The defendants countered that the plaintiff had ridden the ATV for several months and they had instructed her on how to operate it. She was not under the influence of any substances, and it was her choice to ride alone that night.

Defendants owed plaintiff duty of care

Justice Hurley decided that all of the defendants owed the plaintiff a duty of care, stating:

An ATV is a popular motorized vehicle; to date, there is no legally mandated instruction, training, or license qualification. The owner of an ATV or a person who can control access to it owes a duty of care to a person, like Megan, who they know has had little or no experience or instruction in operating one. It is a powerful machine which can result in serious injuries to a driver or passenger, whether a child or adult if it is not operated properly. A reasonable person would know this; the probability of harm in these circumstances is foreseeable. There is a similar legal obligation if they know that the person cannot safely operate the ATV due to their physical or mental condition.

Only the boyfriend breached the standard of care

His Honour found that neither parent breached the standard of care. The father had no knowledge that she was riding the ATV that night. The mother had previously observed the plaintiff drive the ATV and had given her some instructions on operating it. There was no evidence that she knew or should have known that the plaintiff would ride the ATV on the road that night rather than across a field. 

However, his Honour found that the boyfriend was in a different position than his parents and breached the care standard. He gave her minimal instruction, knew she had only ridden in an open field and had no experience turning the vehicle sharply. He took no steps to drive in front of her to ensure she slowed down before arriving at the curve. 

Boyfriend’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injury

Finally, Justice Hurley found that the cause of the crash was the plaintiff’s inability to turn at a sharp curve and that this failure to steer adequately was attributable to her boyfriend’s negligence. His Honour decided that the boyfriend’s negligence caused or materially contributed to the accident, but for that negligence, the accident would not have happened and the plaintiff would not have been injured. 

As a result, Justice Hurley found the plaintiff’s boyfriend liable. However, his Honour also explained that because the plaintiff should have worn a helmet, she was contributorily negligent reducing the boyfriend’s liability by 10%.

Contact the personal injury lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP for advice following an ATV or Motor Vehicle Accident

If you have been injured in an accident involving a vehicle or someone else has been injured in your vehicle, one of your priorities should be to consult with a personal injury lawyer to understand your rights or potential liability fully. At Tierney Stauffer LLP, we can help you make decisions about what to do following a motor vehicle accident.

The experienced personal injury lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP recognize that no two accidents or accident victims are the same, which is why we give each claim the personalized attention needed to bring about the best possible resolution. Contact us at 1-888-799-8057 or reach out online to set up a consultation today. 


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