Passenger Grabbing Wheel Does Not Invalidate Coverage

In the recent decision of O’Sullivan v. The Personal Insurance Company,  Justice J.A. Ramsay recently held that an insured person does not lose his right to sue his insurance company, when he is injured by a passenger who grabs the wheel of the car.

Mr. O Sullivan (full name not disclosed in the court decision) was driving his father’s car with permission, when a passenger grabbed the steering wheel and caused a collision.  Mr. O’Sullivan suffered serious personal injuries in the collision.

Because the passenger did not have insurance, Mr. O’Sullivan sued his father’s insurance company, The Personal, under the “uninsured” provisions of the insurance p0licy.  The uninsured provisions lets the insurance company stand in the place of the driver who caused the accident.

There is an exclusion clause in the insurance policy which states that there is no coverage if the automobile is used or operated by a person in possession of the automobile without the owner’s consent.

The Personal brought a motion to strike Mr. O’Sullivan’s claim.  It argued that once the passenger grabbed the wheel, the passenger had control of the car as operator and possessor.  Since the passenger did not have consent to take the car, the exclusion applied and Mr. O’Sullivan could not sue The Personal.

Justice Ramsay held that the passenger was only partially in control, since Mr. O’Sullivan still controlled the accelerator and the brakes.  The passenger only controlled the steering wheel, at least in part.  Justice Ramsay reviewed exclusion clause and held that it meant that coverage is only denied when “the sole operator, or all joint operators” take possession without the owner’s consent.   Therefore, the exclusion clause only protected The Personal from a claim made by the passenger.  It did not protect The Personal from a claim by Mr. O’Sullivan.

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