Suits over Toronto van attack could hit insurers

AUTO INSURERS could become embroiled in the aftermath of last month’s van attack in Toronto, an industry legal expert says.

On April 23, 10 people were killed and 14 injured when a man drove onto a Yonge Street sidewalk in the city’s north end.

The suspect, who was quickly arrested following the incident, was reportedly driving a rented van.

Lee Samis, a lawyer with Toronto-based commercial and insurance litigation firm Samis and Company, said the tragedy presents a multitude of legal complexities.

A history of case law forcing insurance companies to address injuries inflicted in criminal acts “would suggest that auto insurers could get dragged into this in a limited way at least,” he said.

“The victims’ own accident benefits insurers could get dragged into it.”

The matter becomes even more complex if the rental van company is implicated, he added.

“Rental companies’ liability is somewhat limited under the insurance act…and it depends on the vehicle involved,” Mr. Samis said.

“And the Highway Traffic Act makes the owner of the vehicle vicariously liable. But that is for operation on a highway, which means roadway, and some of this was off the roadway.”

He said victims will also likely be making claims for non-compensatory damages such as punitive damages which would raise further coverage issues.

Mr. Samis said that, even though a number of events in Europe in the past two years shed light on how criminals can use vehicles to cause mass casualty, it is unlikely that any Ontario auto insurance policies reflect that.

“Ontario auto policy (wording) is basically 20 to 30 years old and our legislative framework is about the same,” Mr. Samis said.

“After 9/11 people started looking at terrorism exclusions in certain kinds of coverage but that never happened in auto insurance that I’m aware of.”

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