Canadians travel to the United States regularly and in the winter months “snowbirds” flock to the southern states in their cars. Seldom do these motorists consider what it would mean if they were injured in a car accident during their trip. Each year, many Canadians are involved in car accidents while travelling in the US. Bringing a claim for compensation after a US car accident can involve complex issues such as where a civil action should be started and which jurisdiction’s laws will apply.
If you are from Ontario and are involved in an accident in the United States, you may be able to commence an action in Ontario, in the state in which the accident occurred, or both. Your right to do so will depend upon several factors, including what insurance is available to the parties involved and the particular facts of each case.
How Jurisdiction is Determined in Ontario
Determining whether an Ontario Court has jurisdiction to hear your action involves a two-part test. First, the Court will determine if there are any “presumptive connecting factors” linking the lawsuit to Ontario. If you wish to have your case heard in Ontario, it is your responsibility to demonstrate the existence of one or more of these connecting factors.
The Supreme Court of Canada established the following four presumptive connecting factors:
1. The wrongful act was committed in the province;
2. The defendant lives in or is a resident of the province;
3. The defendant carries on business in the province; and,
4. A contract connected with the dispute was made in the province.
If Ontario is found to have jurisdiction over an action, the second part of the test considers whether or not Ontario is the most convenient place for the lawsuit. This is referred to as “forum non conveniens” and is based on an understanding that courts have the power to decline to hear an action in appropriate circumstances in order to assure fairness to the parties and the efficient resolution of the dispute. The Court may consider issues such as the difficulty or inconvenience of having to pursue litigation outside of Ontario or if you require ongoing medical attention in Ontario. The opposing party will have the burden of showing that another forum is clearly more appropriate than Ontario.
Is My Case Worth Less in Other Jurisdictions?
We have all heard of the large jury awards handed out in the USA. Unfortunately, many States require only minimal auto insurance coverage for their drivers. Therefore, if you are injured in the U.S., your access to the other driver’ss insurance may be limited even if your damages are much higher. Fortunately, you may still be able to recover additional compensation under the Family Protection Endorsement (OCPF-44R) in your own auto insurance policy. This coverage may increase your protection against uninsured or underinsured US drivers. You may also be entitled to receive accident benefits through your own policy.
Be Aware of Limitation Periods
The law of the place where the accident occurred is the law which determines who is at fault for an accident. This law also determines the time within which you must bring your action (the “limitation period”) as against the at-fault driver. American limitation periods are often shorter than the periods that apply in Ontario. Therefore it is crucial to contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible following the accident. If you miss the U.S. limitation period, you may not be able to bring an action in Ontario.
Assess Your Insurance Needs
It is also important to discuss your auto and travel insurance needs with your agent before travelling outside of Ontario. You may need travel insurance to cover any unexpected medical bills while in the US. You may want to increase your auto insurance limits and purchase optional accident benefits in order to protect yourself against the often in adequate insurance carried by US motorists.