Slip and fall or motor vehicle accident? An issue of jurisdiction


As you step out of your vehicle, your foot skids across a treacherous icy surface, causing you to slip and fall and injure yourself. Instead of meeting your friends for dinner, you end up in the emergency room. This type of incident is not uncommon in the Canadian winter climate, and can often lead to civil lawsuits against the owner or occupier of the property, or a contractor who was hired to maintain and manage the hazards of snow and ice. If it is found that the property was negligently maintained, the person who suffered injuries from the slip and fall may be compensated accordingly through litigation.

However, the legislation in Manitoba provides for a different avenue of compensation for injured parties when a vehicle plays a part in the slip and fall.

Manitoba has a “no fault” insurance scheme for motor vehicle accidents, which provides Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation (MPIC) with exclusive jurisdiction over personal injuries that arise out of motor vehicle accidents. MPIC provides this coverage through a Personal Injury Protection Plan (PIPP), regardless of whether there was negligence involved, or who was at fault for the accident.

In order to be covered under PIPP, the personal injury suffered in the accident must be related to the use of the vehicle.

An incident such as the one described above may ordinarily be classified as a “slip and fall” but, because it occurred while exiting the vehicle, it could also technically fit within the definition of a motor vehicle accident. Exiting a vehicle is an ordinary and well-known activity involved in the use and operation of vehicles.

Importantly, an injured party cannot “double dip” and seek compensation under both PIPP and by suing in negligence. In this regard, Section 72 of the MPIC Act prohibits any tort actions (such as civil claims based in negligence) to be brought for bodily injuries that arise out of motor vehicle accidents. Therefore, the injured party must choose the proper avenue for compensation.

This creates an issue of jurisdiction. In certain circumstances, it can also leave owners, occupiers and maintenance contractors (and their insurers) with a potential defence when they are sued civilly. These issues have been addressed in previous court decisions, including at the Supreme Court of Canada. In Amos v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia , when the driver of a vehicle was shot and seriously injured in a drive-by shooting, it was deemed to be a motor vehicle accident. The public insurer (BC’s equivalent to MPIC) initially denied the driver’s insurance claim, but the Supreme Court of Canada determined that it was a motor vehicle accident because it of the relationship between the injuries and the ownership, use, or operation of the vehicle.

In coming to this conclusion, a two-part test was applied:

  1. Did the accident result from the ordinary and well-known activities to which vehicles are put?
  2. Is there some nexus or causal relationship between the insured’s injuries and the ownership, use or operation of the vehicle?

There are a few Manitoba examples in which this two-part test has been applied in Manitoba.

In one such case, a claim in negligence against a municipality was dismissed when a poorly maintained bridge resulted in a car accident, because coverage for personal injuries was provided by MPIC.

In another decision, it was found that the plaintiff’s injuries occurred while using an automobile notwithstanding that he had slipped and fallen onto a store’s property while loading lumber into his parked truck.

Based upon the case law, courts seem inclined to broadly interpret what constitutes a motor vehicle accident and qualifies injuries to be compensated through PIPP.

Notwithstanding the above, however, the Manitoba courts more recently have cautioned against interpreting these provisions too broadly. There still must be an established connection between the injury and the vehicle in order to be classified as a motor vehicle accident.

For example, when a plaintiff had tripped on a fence after disembarking from her vehicle and walking with the intention of removing her children from the vehicle as well, there was no established connection between the injuries and the vehicle. As a result, the incident was classified as a trip and fall rather than a motor vehicle accident.

It therefore becomes a very fact-specific inquiry as to which jurisdiction applies.

Our litigation lawyers can evaluate the circumstances of your claim, and provide legal advice and guidance regarding the proper jurisdiction. Please contact one of our lawyers for more information.