On Your Marks, Get Set, Go! Car Races and the SAAQ
Par Sarah D. Pinsonnault, avocate
By Sarah D. Pinsonnault
Under s. 10(4) of the Automobile Insurance Act, CQLR c A-25 (“AIA”), the victim of an automobile accident is not entitled to compensation offered by the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (“SAAQ”) when said accident occurred “…as a result of an automobile contest, show or race on a track or other location temporarily or permanently closed to all other automobile traffic…”. In Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec c. Circuit Mont-Tremblant inc., 2014 QCCA 1174, the Court of Appeal had to determine what exactly constitutes a « race on a closed track » in order to decide whether or not the accident in question fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the SAAQ and was eligible for compensation.
In 2008, Christian Rochon (“Mr. Rochon”) volunteered to work at a private event held at the Circuit Mont-Tremblant. Here, motorcyclist could perfect their techniques and drive at speeds that are normally not permitted on main highways.
During this event, Mr. Rochon acted as marshal and supervised the group of novice motorcyclists. At one point, he was asked to verify whether an animal could be present in a particular area around the race track. While on his motorcycle, as he made his way to the edge of the race track, he was suddenly struck by another motorcyclist driving at high speed.
He sustained major bodily injuries from this impact and accordingly instituted a legal action against an array of defendants, including the motorcyclist who hit him and the Circuit Mont-Tremblant. However, the trial judge granted two motions for the dismissal of Mr. Rochon’s action based on s. 54.1 CCP and the argument that the SAAQ had exclusive jurisdiction over this matter.
The SAAQ, already having been impleaded in Mr. Rochon’s action pursuant to s. 12.1 AIA, appealed the latter. It argued that the accident in question, that being an accident occurring as a result of an automobile race on a track closed to all other automobile traffic, in accordance with s. 10(4) AIA, constituted an exception to the general compensation scheme established by the SAAQ (i.e. no fault insurance).
The Court of Appeal noted that the AIA in and of itself must be interpreted in a broad and liberal manner, all the while remaining logically consistent with its wording, in order for it to attain its ultimate purpose; that being to provide compensation for victims of accidents caused by an automobile, regardless of whom is responsible. Consequently, the type of use being made of the automobile, such as its speed, should not be taken into account.
However, in line with the principles governing the interpretation of legislation, the Court of Appeal raised the point that, as with all exceptions contained in bodies of law, s. 10 AIA must be interpreted restrictively. Therefore, the only question that remained was what constitutes a “race” under s.10 AIA and did the victim partake in one the day of his accident.
On that note, while the Court of Appeal did acknowledge that the event was an extreme sport, it held that ultimately what mattered was determining the nature of the event. Thus, based on the exhibits filed, such as the following extract from one of their advertisements:
“MYTH vs FACT
[…] It’s just dangerous or unsafe and I do not want to race!
You are riding on a race track, you are not racing. Big difference. It’s more like going for a brisk street ride with your friends, but much safer than the street. […]”
the Court of Appeal determined that the event was organised more for practicing purposes than racing. As a result, the SAAQ’s appeal was dismissed:
“ Le fait qu’il règne une atmosphère de course sur le circuit, que des précautions soient prises quant à l’habillement des participants ou à la modification des motocyclettes, qu’il y ait des signaleurs qui utilisent des drapeaux, des marshalls(sic) qui encadrent l’activité ou encore que les participants circulent à très grande vitesse ne transforme pas l’événement en une compétition, un spectacle ou une course d’automobiles au sens usuel de ces termes.
 Eu égard au sens usuel des mots choisis par le législateur, à l’exception invoquée et à la preuve administrée sur l’événement au cœur du débat, le juge a eu raison de conclure à l’absence de compétence de la Cour supérieure. Il appartient maintenant à la SAAQ d’examiner et de décider de l’indemnisation qui doit être versée aux appelants en vertu de l’article 83.41 de la Loi.”
To read this decision in its entirety and other elements discussed therein, click here.