A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice provides guidance as to whose insurer must respond first to a plaintiff’s claim in motor vehicle accidents involving rented or leased automobiles.
In Elias v. Koochek, 2014 ONSC No. 5003 (S.C.J.), the Court heard a motion involving a rental car accident. The passengers of the car brought a lawsuit naming the uninsured driver of the car (Koochek) and the owner of the car (Aviscar) as defendants. Aviscar then brought a third party claim against the renter of the car (Moshe). The court was asked to determine whether the renter’s insurer was required to respond first to the plaintiff’s claim.
In order to answer this question the court looked to section 277(1.1) of the Insurance Act and the corresponding provisions of the Ontario Automobile Policy. Section 277(1.1) provides for the priority in which available insurance policies are to respond to liability from the ownership or operation of a leased (rented) automobile. It states that the lessee’s (renter’s) policy is to respond first, followed by the driver’s policy and then the owner’s policy. This is an exception to the general rule in motor vehicle accidents that the owner’s policy is to respond first.
The renter argued that his insurance was not “available” because he was not named as a defendant in the main action. The court disagreed, and stated that making the availability of the renter’s policy dependant on whether the renter was named as a defendant or a third party would lead to inconsistent results and subvert the legislative intent behind section 277(1.1). The court said that while a claim does need to be made against the renter in order to trigger the availability of their insurance under 277(1.1), the procedural manner of pleading by which this claim is made is not relevant.
As such, the court found that the renter’s insurer did need to respond first to the plaintiff’s claim.