In the event of an accident, who’s responsible? And if you’ve been injured, what rights do you have?

This article looks at the risks associated with high-risk vehicles in Ontario, starting with off-road vehicles (ATVs, snowmobiles) and finishing with motorized watercraft (jet skis, sport boats).

Off-road vehicles in Ontario

An unfortunate consequence of ATV and snowmobile use is accidents that can lead to serious injury and even death. What’s worse is that children and young adults are often the ones getting hurt or killed. And although helmets are mandatory when operating off-road recreational vehicles, they work best to reduce the severity of head and brain injuries, but there’s little they can do to prevent death in the event of reckless driving. And they’re not much good if the driver has chosen not to wear one.

The Ontario Off-Road Vehicles Act, 1990, requires all off-road vehicles to have a permit, license plate, and coverage under an automobile insurance policy. The law also stipulates the driver should be at least 12 unless supervised by an adult or riding on the vehicle owner’s property. There should be a registration permit with the vehicle, and government-approved helmets must be worn by the driver and all passengers, securely fastened by a chin strap.

Off-road liability

Regardless of who’s driving the vehicle, the owner of an off-road vehicle involved in an accident is responsible for injuries:

Where the driver of an off-road vehicle, who is not the owner thereof, is liable for damages for injury or damage arising out of the operation by the driver of the vehicle with the consent of the owner, the owner is jointly and severally liable.

However, if the driver is shown to have acted carelessly and without reasonable consideration, they may also be held accountable.

The major causes of off-road vehicle accidents include:

  • alcohol
  • excessive speed
  • inexperience
  • riding at night

Riding without a helmet is a major risk factor in fatalities associated with off-road vehicles.

If you’re injured in an off-road vehicle accident, you can claim accident benefits under your auto insurance in certain circumstances. However, the accident benefits coverage regarding off-road vehicles is very complex and fact-dependent, so it is best to consult a personal injury lawyer if you have questions about whether or not you have accident benefits coverage.

If another person is responsible for the accident, you may be eligible to sue for damages. The amount you can sue for depends on the severity of your injuries.

Compensation/damages you can sue for include:

  • loss of income
  • medical/rehabilitation expenses
  • attendant care costs
  • loss of enjoyment in life and other non-pecuniary damages

Safe driving recommendations for off-road vehicles

You have a lot of options for keeping yourself and others safe while off-roading. Some are obvious. Always wear a helmet. Don’t speed. And attempt nothing beyond what your experience level can handle.

Additional recommendations from the Ministry of Transportation include:

  • complete an off-road vehicle safety course
  • have an expert teach you to ride
  • always take trail and weather conditions into consideration
  • be cautious when turning, or when climbing or descending hills
  • ride sober
  • never ride alone and let others know where you’ll be and when you plan to return
  • only ride in approved, designated areas
  • respect others on the trail
  • read the vehicle’s operator’s manual cover-to-cover before riding
  • do a pre-ride inspection, checking gas and fluid levels, brakes, lights, tire pressure, etc.
  • keep noise levels as low as possible
  • respect wildlife

Motorized watercraft in Ontario

A common cause of boating-related accidents, including fatalities, is carelessness or negligence on behalf of the owner, the operator, or their passengers. When safe boating practices are being observed, the risk of serious injury and death is greatly reduced.

Sometimes, the injured party made a mistake that resulted in an accident. But accidents often result from operator negligence. Nothing can undo the damage caused by catastrophic injury or death. But if you or a loved one has experienced a loss due to a boater’s negligence or carelessness, you are eligible for compensation.

Boating accidents can cause trauma, hypothermia, and drowning—especially when people don’t wear life jackets.

Liability in boating accidents

Liability in pleasure craft-related accidents is spelled out in the Marine Liability Act (MLA). The MLA states that damages are the responsibility of the vessel’s owner unless there’s evidence otherwise. You can file a personal injury lawsuit seeking damages through a third party’s insurance if that party caused the accident at least in part.

If a boat owner knows/should know of a danger/potential risk and does nothing about it, they could be found liable in an accident. For instance, if an owner knows their boat is ill-equipped or being operated by someone impaired by drugs or alcohol, they’re responsible.

In the event of a passenger injury or death, the owner could be exonerated in part or in whole if they can prove the passenger contributed to the accident. When several parties are at fault, liability is assigned by degree to each party.

Liability can also extend to non-collision incidents. For example, a poorly maintained motor could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning or a fire.

With marine law, sometimes nobody’s at fault. When an incident is the result of hostile weather, even something as simple as a sudden change of wind direction, no liability can be attributed. Comprehensive marine insurance may be your only chance of recouping losses incurred this way.

There may ultimately be no recourse in a no-fault situation without insurance. This is especially true if you rent a pleasure craft and choose to sign a liability waiver rather than purchase the rental insurance. For example, if you lose control of a rented jet-ski after signing a waiver, there might be no coverage for any resulting injury or death. Read our article on being careful about what you’re signing when it comes to waivers.

Boating laws in Ontario

Transport Canada regulates boating laws in all Canadian provinces and territories. Part of the regulations specifies the safety equipment that every boat must carry.

  • lifejackets/personal floatation devices – one each, appropriately sized for every occupant. It is strongly recommended that everyone in the boat always wears a PFD.
  • manual propulsion device(s) like a paddle or oars
  • sonic signal like a whistle or horn
  • 15-meter or longer buoyant heaving line
  • bailer/bilge pump – not required for watertight compartments or boats that can’t take on enough water to make them capsize
  • watertight flashlight/signal lights – if boating at night
  • flares – if traveling farther than 1.825 km (one nautical mile) from shore
  • re-boarding device if vertical climb higher than .5 meters above the waterline

In addition, all motorized boats, including jet-skis, need to carry extra equipment. The exact list varies depending on the specific vehicle, but usually includes:

  • fire extinguisher
  • anchor
  • navigation lights
  • radar reflector
  • compass
  • multiple flares

Have you been hurt in a high-risk vehicle accident?

Victims in off-road vehicle and boating accidents are entitled to compensation for injuries caused by third-party negligence or recklessness as much as victims of motor vehicle accidents are.

Have you or a loved one sustained a serious, permanent injury in a high-risk vehicle accident? Or has a loved one lost their life this way? Are you considering taking action against the person responsible?

If so, contact the dedicated team of personal injury lawyers at Mackesy Smye today to get the compensation you deserve.