Isaac Estate v. Matuszynska, 2018 ONCA 177 (CanLII)

The standard of care applicable for drivers in emergency situations is not a standard of perfection. The doctrine of emergency will be applied where the harm is “imminent and unforeseen”.  

Date Heard: May 24, 2017 | Full Decision [PDF]

Following a dispute over a drug deal, Isaac left the passenger seat of Lafontaine’s car. Isaac walked to the driver’s side window, broke the window and reached into the car, trying to seize the drugs. Lafontaine drove away, kicking at Isaac and swerving the vehicle to try to disengage him. Isaac fell, struck his head and died. Isaac’s family members brought an action in negligence. The statutory third party, State Farm, successfully brought a motion for summary judgment to dismiss. The motions judge held that Lafontaine met the standard of care in an emergency situation, and that Isaac was the author of his own misfortune.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that Lafontaine was or ought to have been aware of the possibility of danger, and that Lafontaine contributed to the emergency situation by consuming crack cocaine prior to meeting with Isaac. The plaintiffs’ appeal was dismissed. The Court of Appeal held that in order to apply the doctrine of emergency, the harm must be imminent and unforeseen. The Court of Appeal held:

Putting the appellants’ case at its highest, Lafontaine had reason to believe that something might happen in the course of a drug deal, occurring in the middle of the night in an empty parking lot. The appellants assert that Lafontaine “foresaw that Mr. Isaac was about to do something unreasonable and foolish”. But this does not come close to establishing that Lafontaine foresaw, or should have foreseen, what actually occurred: an attack by Isaac and an attempt to force his way into Lafontaine’s car. This was confirmed by the only witness whose evidence was cross-examined, Monica Turnbull, who indicated that she wanted to leave, but added: “Well, I mean I don’t think [Lafontaine] anticipated what was gonna happen to happen.”

The Court held that the motion judge held correctly that the defendant acted reasonably in the context of an emergency. It is not an error to conclude that Lafontaine did not anticipate Isaac’s actions, which included an attack and an attempt to force his way into Lafontaine’s vehicle.

Justice Pepall dissented from the Court of Appeal’s decision, mainly on the basis that there was not a full factual record upon which to reach summary judgment. She was concerned that the motions judge did not fully analyze the evidence presented, particularly with respect to clear inconsistencies and credibility issues between the parties and the witnesses. Justice Pepall opined that cautioned must be used in summary judgment motions when the factual record is incomplete or where it involves legal issues that are not fully settled in the case law. Justice Pepall concluded at paragraph 93:

Hryniak ushered in a new approach to summary judgment. This was at least in part a response to the need to provide for greater access to justice. Superior Court judges have answered the Supreme Court’s entreaty with a huge degree of professional commitment and diligence. This is to be lauded. A major goal of summary judgment is costs savings. However, the goal is not summary judgment at all costs. There will still be some cases that ought to go to trial. Some caution must be used. This is particularly so in a case such as this that involves a largely unexplored area of the law and which would benefit from the full record that a trial provides.

 

Read the full decision [PDF]
Gillian Mays
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Gillian attained an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Queen’s University in 2011, receiving the Roscoe R. Miller Award and the Arts 1915 Price for academic excellence. She received her Juris Doctor from Western University in 2014 and was placed on the Dean’s Honour List.

Prior to joining Bogoroch & Associates LLP, Gillian articled at a full-service firm in London, and was called to the Bar in 2015. She has been published in The Advocates’ Journal and participated in the Gale Cup Moot, and is a member of the Canadian Bar Association, The Advocates’ Society, and the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association.