One in five drivers admit they drove the morning after a night of heavy drinking, according to 'Drinkaware', a road safety organization in the U.K. (www.drinkaware.co.uk). Studies reveal that in the past few decades, far fewer people drive at night after drinking; however, an increasing number drive in the morning, believing that it is safe to do so. However, this is often a mistaken belief. Research in the U.K. finds that alcohol related arrest in the morning hours between 6-8 a.m. have actually increased.
Driving while under the influence of alcohol carries heavy penalties in Ontario, in recognition of the substantial risk of injury that drunk driving presents to all road users. There are many alternatives available that allow us to practice responsible drinking, such as relying on a designated driver, availing of a cab or public transit, or overnighting at a party or event, and most Canadians are taking advantage of such options. However, sometimes drivers fail to allow for the fact that driving on the morning after an evening or night of heavy drinking may also be unsafe, as a driver may still be impaired the next morning. In addition to the risk of causing an accident and injury to another person, and the potential criminal charges and penalties, if you are involved in a collision while still under the influence, your vehicle insurer may dispute your claim.
In Tut v. RBC General Insurance Company, the vehicle insurer appealed an earlier decision which held that RBC has a duty to indemnify (i.e. honour the claim) for the respondents. This insurance dispute arose after a 20-year-old was involved in a collision while driving his friends home following an evening of celebrating his 20th birthday at his home. The young driver lost control of the car and veered off the road, while attempting to pass another vehicle. All of the vehicle occupants were taken to hospital, and the hospital report indicated that the driver had a blood alcohol concentration over one and a half times the legal limit.
The young man testified that he had no recollection of the morning of the accident, due to the serious injuries he sustained including the fact that he was unconscious for some time after the accident. However, he admitted that he had more to drink on the evening before the collision than he had ever drunk before, including both beer and ‘hard’ alcohol, but was not certain exactly how much he consumed.
Under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, novice drivers and drivers 21 years old and under are not permitted any alcohol when driving. In this case, the car belonged to the boy’s mother, and both the young man and his mother sincerely believed that he was sober. The boy's parents were not present throughout the evening celebrations and weren’t aware exactly how much alcohol had been consumed. The young man had a full night’s sleep (between six and nine hours) and displayed no signs of impairment in the morning when he asked his mother’s consent to borrow the car.
RBC argued that the policyholders breached a condition of their policy and therefore, the insurer is not obliged to provide coverage. Statutory Condition 4(1) of the policy states that “an insured shall not operate, or permit any other person to operate, a motor vehicle unless the person is authorized by law to operate it”. In this case, the fact that the young man was operating the vehicle in contradiction of Ontario law pertaining to young drivers with a blood alcohol concentration greater than zero, meant that he was not authorized to drive.
A key circumstance affecting the judge’s decision for this case is the fact that both mother and son genuinely believed that the young man had zero alcohol in his blood when he asked to drive the family car. The boy testified that he would never knowingly drive while under the influence of alcohol and also, his parents had discussed the importance of never driving after drinking with their son, and were in prior agreement on this issue. The judge concluded that the boy’s mother behaved reasonably under the circumstances and the young man’s belief that he was qualified to drive was a “reasonable mistake of fact”.
The judge found that RBC Insurance did not meet the onus of establishing that the policyholder knowingly permitted her son to drive when he was not authorized to do so. Therefore, the judge held that RBC is responsible for providing insurance coverage to the claimants.
In this case, counsel was successful at having the claim resolved on behalf of the plaintiffs. However, this incident brings to light the dangers of driving after an evening of heavy drinking. Sometimes, simply ‘sleeping it off’ is not an adequate solution to avoid driving while under the influence, and each individual must assess whether this is the safe and appropriate option given their unique circumstances.
Every year, the claims of thousands of policyholders are disputed or denied for alleged transgressions. The respected Kitchener and Waterloo car accident lawyers have successfully represented many accident victims in insurance disputes, where their vehicle insurer has disputed a claim or failed to pay the full amount of owed benefits. If you or a family member were injured by a negligent driver and need strong representation against a defendant and their insurer, you are well advised to seek the services of a personal injury lawyer who has skill and experience in aggressively negotiating with insurance companies.