In Maguire v Padt, 2014 ONSC 6099 (S.C.J.), the defendant, Suzanne Padt, was driving in whiteout conditions when she lost control of her car and rolled into a ditch. Several passing motorists pulled over to rescue Padt from her car. After placing Padt safely in a police cruiser, the rescuers were preparing to return to their vehicles when another passing car lost control and drove into them. Two of the rescuers were killed and a third was seriously injured. They commenced an action against Padt.
Padt brought a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the duty of care that she owed to her rescuers concluded at the end of the rescue and that the rescue had concluded when she was removed from imminent peril and was safe in the police car.
In its decision, the court first reviewed and affirmed the established legal principle that negligent parties who cause themselves or others to be placed in danger owe a duty of care to the responding rescuers.
The court stated that the rationale underlying this duty was that injury to rescuers was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the negligent conduct that led to their involvement. The court stated that the negligent party should be liable for any injury that was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the negligent conduct – not just for injuries that occurred while the person being rescued was in peril. The court put it this way: “It is foreseeability, not the end of the peril, that sets the limits of the liability.”
Given the whiteout conditions on the road, the court found that the second accident was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of Padt’s negligent conduct. The court dismissed Padt’s motion and, under the assumption that Padt was negligent in causing the first accident (which was accepted for the purpose of the motion), granted partial summary judgment in favour of the plaintiffs.