Using the “Transmission of Force” Principle in MVA Claims

The recent Ontario case Unifund Assurance Co. v. ACE INA Insurance Co. which involved a motor vehicle and a pedestrian highlights the “transmission of force” principle which is fundamental to resolving insurance claims involving multi car accidents in determining which vehicle is the root cause of the accident.

It is this principle which plays a key part in determining which of several insurers may be liable to pay for personal injury damages that may have arisen in the accident.

The case involved a legal contest between two insurers Unifund and ACE stemming from an accident involving two cars and a pedestrian which collided.  The Unifund-insured vehicle had struck an ACE-insured car which in turn struck the pedestrian.  After the initial impact, the two cars had been propelled in different directions, but only the ACE-insured car came into contact with the pedestrian who suffered injuries.  The pedestrian claimed accident benefits which gave rise to the question of which vehicle had actually “struck” the pedestrian within the wording of the relevant insurance policies.   It was either the Unifund-insured vehicle, which had propelled the ACE-insured one into the pedestrian or the ACE-insured car which actually caused the injuries.

After hearing the evidence and applying the “transmission of force” principle, an arbitrator ruled that Unifund should be liable for the injured pedestrian’s accident benefits since it was its insured vehicle with the ACE-insured vehicle and ultimately caused the ACE vehicle to injure the pedestrian.

Unifund successfully appealed and the court agreed that the arbitrator had been wrong to have applied the “transmission of force” principle to impose liability on Unifund in these circumstances.

According to the Court, based on the agreed facts that had been filed by both insurers, there was insufficient evidence that the collision between the ACE-insured vehicle and the Unifund-insured one would not have occurred if it were not for the actions of the Unifund-insured driver.    Accordingly, the court concluded that the force that propelled the ACE-insured car to strike the pedestrian had not come from the Unifund-insured vehicle, but from an “independent force” that either came from the ACE-insured car or from the actions of the driver.  The Court therefore, set aside the arbitrator’s decision and ordered ACE to pay the pedestrian’s accident benefits pursuant to the policy.