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What Constitutes a “Dependant” Under the SABS

The recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision in State Farm v. Bunyan (2013 ONSC 6670) examines the issue of whether the respondent (“Mr. Bunyan”) was a “dependant” in accordance with the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (“SABS”) and thus entitled to accident benefits under his mother’s automobile policy. In this instance the Court concluded that Mr. Bunyan remained “dependant” on his mother at the time of his accident despite having left her home in Ontario to find employment in Alberta. The Court further concluded that it would be unjust for State Farm to succeed on the application after having paid benefits to Mr. Bunyan for five years

Mr. Bunyan was an adult who had been living with his mother in Ontario on and off for many years. He had previously moved out of his mother’s home to pursue various employment opportunities prior to returning to her home. Just prior to the accident, Mr. Bunyan had been on a bus to Alberta, to find work, when he was involved in an altercation with other passengers on the bus. Ultimately, Mr. Bunyan was removed from the bus and left on the highway where he was subsequently struck and injured by a truck which resulted in Mr. Bunyan having sustained catastrophic injuries. At  the time of the accident Mr. Bunyan had $0.24 in his bank account and his mother continued to pay for the majority of Mr. Bunyan’s day to day expenses.

In the Court’s decision Justice Corbett reviewed the definition of “dependant” under the “SABS” which states that a “dependant” is “principally dependent for financial support or care on the other person or the person’s spouse”. In reaching a determination as to whether or not a person is “dependant” the court will consider the amount and duration of the dependency, the dependent’s financial or other needs and their ability to be self-supporting.

In this decision the court noted that “independence is more a transition than an event” and the analysis of dependence is both “a practical and functional one”. Accordingly, the issue of dependence may turn on whether or not an individual remained dependent at the time of the accident despite having made some progress towards independence. In this decision Justice Corbett noted that at the time of the accident more than half of Mr. Bunyan’s day to day expenses continued to be met by his mother, he had no independent residence, no transportation, no steady employment, no savings, had not paid his child support obligations and Mr. Bunyan appeared to suffer from alcohol dependency issues. In consideration of these factors and Mr. Bunyan’s prior inconsistent progress the Court concluded that Mr. Bunyan was not likely to become independent merely as a result of his having moved out of his mother’s Ontario home to pursue employment in Alberta. Ultimately, Justice Corbett found that Mr. Bunyan remained principally dependent on his mother at the time of the accident and he was therefore an insured person under State Farm’s automobile policy.

Justice Corbett also determined that State Farm was prevented from bringing the subject application after having paid benefits to Mr. Bunyan for five years. In particular, the Court noted that if the Court had determined that Mr. Bunyan was not “dependant” on his mother at the time of the accident Mr. Bunyan would no longer have had recourse against the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation (“MPIC ”) who insured the truck which had struck Mr. Bunyan. If State Farm had wished to pursue a position as against Mr. Bunyan’s entitlement to coverage it was incumbent on State Farm to do so while it was still open to Mr. Bunayn to pursue a claim for SABS against MPIC.

  • Par : Michael J.L. White