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February 18, 2015

Broad Definition of the Term “Accident”

In the decision VanBerlo v. Aim Underwriting Ltd., 2014 ONSC 4648 (S.C.J.), the Ontario Superior Court recently considered the meaning of the term “accident”. The plaintiff crashed while attempting to take off in his twin-engine aircraft when he was aware that only one of the two engines was functioning. Although he had never done this before, it was the plaintiff’s belief that the aircraft was capable of taking off with only one engine. Additionally, he felt that it was able to safely make the six-minute flight to his destination. The plaintiff sought to recover the damages to the plane under his Aircraft Policy of Insurance. The insurer argued that this did not fall under the definition of an "accident" and the policy was not triggered.

The Court reviewed the existing case law and concluded that the term "accident" is "an unlooked for mishap or occurrence”. Applying this definition, the Court found that an accident can occur where the conduct of the insured constitutes negligence and even gross negligence. In this case, the court held:

“It cannot be said, on the facts, that the plaintiff realized the danger of his actions and deliberately assumed the risk; nor can it be said that the plaintiff’s conduct rose to a level of recklessness or culpability such that the occurrence was no longer an accident.”

The insurance was policy was required to pay the damages sought by the plaintiff.

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