ATVs and snowmobiles can be a source of endless entertainment. However, if you do not take the appropriate steps as the owner and/or operator to protect yourself, they can also be a source of liability or lead to a personal injury that leaves you with no means to pay for your recovery. This article briefly discusses insurance requirements, Statutory Accident Benefits (SABs) and tort claims in the ATV and snowmobile context.
The Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act.
The Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act requires that all ‘motor vehicles’ that are operated on a highway must have insurance that complies with the minimum standards set out in the Insurance Act, among other things. ‘Motor vehicle’ is given the same definition in the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act as it has under the Highway Traffic Act. Namely, that a ‘motor vehicle’ includes an automobile, a motorcycle, a motor-assisted bicycle unless otherwise indicated in this Act, and any other vehicle propelled or driven otherwise than by muscular power, but does not include a street car or other motor vehicle running only upon rails, a power-assisted bicycle, a motorized snow vehicle, a traction engine, a farm tractor, a self-propelled implement of husbandry or a road-building machine. [emphasis added]
On its face, this definition would seem to exclude snowmobiles from the compulsory insurance requirement under the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act. However, the Motorized Snow Vehicles Act requires snowmobiles to be insured under an Insurance Act ‘motor vehicle’ liability policy. Similarly, the Off-Road Vehicles Act requires all ATVs to be insured by a ‘motor vehicle’ Insurance Act liability policy.
There are exceptions: pursuant to the Motorized Snow Vehicles Act and the Off-Road Vehicles Act snowmobiles and ATVs do not require insurance when they are operated solely on land occupied by the owner of the vehicle. Even if insurance isn’t required for your ATV or snowmobile, as will be explained further below, failing to insure your ATV or snowmobile has significant pitfalls.
Statutory Accident Benefits and Tort Claims
Statutory Accident Benefits (“SABs”), or ‘no-fault’ benefits as they are colloquially referred to, are benefits available to all individuals injured in motor vehicle accidents. As the ‘no-fault’ descriptor suggests, these benefits are available to all individuals injured in a motor vehicle accident regardless of who is responsible and are paid by the injured party’s insurer. These benefits pay for treatment, care and also replace income while an injured person is recovering from an accident and is unable to work. In other words, in the event that the tragedy occurs, SABs provide you benefits that are crucial in your recovery.
SABs are distinguishable from a tort action. A tort claim or action allows an injured party to seek compensation from the individual(s) at-fault for the accident. As this suggests, a tort claim, unlike a claim for SABs, will only be available when it can be proven that an accident was due to the fault (full or partial fault) of another. The tort action compensates an injured party beyond what is provided by the SABs. A successful tort action provides the injured party with a monetary settlement or award that should put the accident victim in the position that he/she would have been in ‘but for’ the accident. This can include such things as compensation for pain and suffering, future care cost needs and income loss. For a complete understanding of damages the article herein “Understanding How Damages Are Assessed in a Personal Injury Case”, updated 2016.
SABS and Tort Claims in the ATV and Snowmobile context
If your snowmobile or ATV is insured under a ‘motor vehicle’ liability policy, then you will be entitled to SABs in the event that an accident occurs. In the event that another individual is at fault for the accident you can also bring a tort claim against them. If you are at fault for the accident, then, depending on the particulars of your insurance contract, your insurer will defend the action and pay any damages awarded against you up to your policy limit.
However, if you fail to insure your snowmobile or ATV as is required under the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act then you will not be able to bring a tort action. If you are the at-fault party in an accident, it also means that the injured party can sue you personally and there will be no insurer to cover any damages awarded against you. This can leave you exposed to potentially financially crippling legal liability.
Occupiers’ Liability, ATVs and Snowmobiles
When an individual owns an ATV or snowmobile and it is only operated on a premises occupied by them (at their own property) then insurance is not mandatory. An occupier includes a person:
- in physical possession of the premises;
- that has responsibility for and control over the condition of the premises;
- that has responsibility or control for the activities carried thereon; or
- that has control over persons allowed to enter the premises.
Nevertheless, the pitfalls highlighted above still arise. Indeed, if you are in an accident that is not caused by another party and you receive serious personal injuries there will be no means to seek recovery for injuries that you have suffered. This can leave you with no means to pay for necessary medical and rehabilitation services.
Additionally, you will be exposed to legal liability. For instance:
- if you allow another to operate your snowmobile or ATV on your premises you may be vicariously liable for any injury they cause to another – even if they take the ATV or snowmobile off your premises contrary to your instructions; and
- you can also be liable for an injury the operator or passenger of the ATV or snowmobile incurs on your property pursuant to the Occupiers’ Liability Act if you act with ‘reckless disregard’ to the safety of that person.
Personal liability and injury aside, insurance will protect individuals that you allow to operate your snowmobile or ATV by ensuring that they have access to SABs in the event there is an accident. Insurance is therefore a good idea to protect you and those you invite onto your premises.
 RSO 1990, c I.8.
 RSO 1990 c C.25, s. 2(1).
 Highway Traffic Act, RSO 1990, c H.8, s. 1(1).
 RSO 1990, c M.44, s. 2(1), 12(1)
 RSO 1990, c O 4 s. 15(1).
 Off-Road Vehicles Act, ibid s. 15(9); Motorized Snow Vehicles Act, supra note s. 12(5).
 Insurance Act, supra note 1 at s. 267.6.
 supra note 6.
 Occupiers’ Liability Act, RSO 1990, c O. 2 at s. 1. See also Motorized Snow Vehicle Act, supra note 4 at s. 1; Off-Road Vehicles Act, supra note 5 at s. 1.
 Fernandes v. Araujo, 2015 ONCA 571 at para 44.
 See Motorized Snow Vehicle Act, supra note 4 at s. 22; Off-Road Vehicles Act, supra note 5 at s. 20. (Although individuals are deemed to willingly assume the risks when riding an ATV or snowmobile on property that they have not paid to use and where they are not provided with living accommodations by the occupier, the occupier can still be liable under the Occupiers’ Liability Act if they act with ‘reckless disregard’ to the safety of the person operating the ATV of snowmobile.