Does a Guilty Plea Mean Intent For Insurance Purposes?
March 25, 2022
Even when it comes to the most traditional motor vehicle accidents, there can be questions about who was at fault, and even once that is determined, whether or not the insurance company (or companies) of the person/people at fault are obligated to pay for their defence in litigation.
When an incident resulting in serious personal injury falls outside of a typical scenario, the likelihood of a dispute over insurance coverage can increase. In insurance law, the language of contracts can be pivotal in determining whether or not the insured is entitled to a defence from their insurance company.
We take a look at a decision from the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta that examines whether the actions of someone who decided to drive their car into a group of people “intentionally” caused an accident/injury when trying to flee. A significant aspect of the decision is its analysis of whether a line can be drawn between criminal and intentional conduct.
Argument at restaurant leads to violence
We should warn readers that the facts relating to the decision contain violence. At about 2:00 am on a November morning in 2011, the defendant, “MB” got into an argument with another individual. When leaving the restaurant, he drove his vehicle towards a group of three people, including the person he had been in an argument with. A witness described the vehicle’s speed as being between 80 and 100 Km/h. While it’s not known if he struck the person he was in an argument with, his actions resulted in his car being surrounded by a group of people who began punching the windows. At this time, MB reversed his vehicle and struck multiple people. One of the people injured was an employee of the restaurant. While it isn’t clear if his injuries resulted from the vehicle striking him, another vehicle, or from jumping out of the way to flee injury. Regardless, the victim suffered a fractured skull and a significant brain injury.
One event or two?
MB eventually plead guilty to dangerous driving, but his legal troubles did not end there. The people injured that evening sought damages to compensate for their injuries. The court was tasked with answering a nuanced question, which is whether the act of driving forward in the parking lot should be considered one act, with the reversing of the vehicle considered another. This is important because Section 533(2) of Alberta’s Insurance Act reads,
(2) Unless a contract of insurance provides otherwise, a contravention of any criminal or other law in force in Alberta or elsewhere does not render unenforceable a claim for indemnity under a contract of insurance except when the contravention is committed by the insured, or by another person with the consent of the insured, with intent to bring about loss or damage.
It’s important to remember that this trial was not scheduled with the intent to determine whether MB was liable for the injuries sustained by the victims. Rather, the court was tasked with determining whether MB’s insurer should be responsible for defending him at a trial to determine liability.
Does MB’s guilty plea mean his actions were intentional?
The court did not hear directly from any witnesses during the hearing. Instead, it relied on the records from MB’s guilty plea to dangerous driving as well as affidavit evidence provided by those at the scene. The court underscored that the only allegations that have been proven are that MB operated his car in a dangerous manner, and by doing so, he caused harm to the victims and fled the scene. It’s important to note that there is no factual finding of intent stemming from the guilty plea.
The court wrote that the charge to which MB pleaded guilty required the Crown to prove that he operated a motor vehicle in a dangerous manner to the public having regard to all the circumstances. To do this, there is no required finding of intent. Instead, the trier of fact must only be satisfied that MB’s actions were are “marked departure” from the standard of care a reasonable person would normally use in those circumstances.
In fact, in her sentencing comments, the criminal trial judge wrote that MB did not have any intention of causing injuries. While she found MB operated a vehicle outside of the way a reasonable person would, she stopped short of finding his actions amounted to intent.
MB’s insurer took the position that MB’s actions were intentional based on his guilty plea and affidavit evidence. They also leaned on MB’s failure to explain his actions. While some people at the scene described MB’s driving towards them as intentional, the court wasn’t sure it could conclude intentionality without having a fair trial, noting, “There is some evidence to support (MB’s) explanation. He was involved in a physical altercation before the driving, and his vehicle, at some point, was attacked by the pedestrians.”
As a result, the court found that the issue of his intent on the night in question should be determined through a trial, at which time the question of whether his reversing his car can also be considered a separate action. With those questions still to be answered, MB’s insurer has an obligation to provide him with a defence.
Contact Calgary Insurance Lawyers For Your Insurance Defence Matters
At HMC Lawyers, our experienced insurance lawyers have decades of collective experience in representing clients in matters related to insurance law. We understand the risks involved in every step of the litigation process and work with our clients to help identify and avoid potential problems with their claims. To find out what you might be able to expect from an insurance-related dispute or how we might be able to help you through the negotiation or litigation process, please don’t hesitate to contact us online or by phone at 403-269-7220.