Matheson v Lewis: Farm ATVs Require Insurance
The recent Ontario Court of Appeal (“ONCA”) decision in Matheson v Lewis, 2014 ONCA 542 [Matheson], held that an unmodified all-terrain vehicle (“ATV”) owned by a farmer and used in farm operations does not fall within the Highway Traffic Act, RSO 1990, c H.8 (“HTA”) exception for “self-propelled implement of husbandry”, and must be insured while on a public roadway. In doing so, the ONCA creates narrow and somewhat unrealistic restrictions on the definition of farm vehicles.
On October 11, 2008, Arthur Matheson drove his ATV, a 1986 Honda TRX 200 SX, onto a gravel concession road on a 30 second trip to check on some sheep he had gated in a westerly of part of his farm. While on the public road he was struck from behind by a truck, suffering serious and permanent physical and cognitive injuries. The truck sped away and the driver, Mr. Lewis, was subsequently convicted of careless driving, obstruction of justice and breach of probation.
Mr. Matheson brought an action against Mr. Lewis, the owner of the truck, and his own insurer. He then brought a motion to determine whether this action would be statute barred by s. 267.6(1) of the Insurance Act, RSO 1990, c I.8, which provides that an injured party cannot sue for damages arising from a motor vehicle accident where he or she was driving an uninsured vehicle at the time of the accident.
The Motion Judge’s Decision
The trial decision (2013 ONSC 2441) framed the issue as a question fact and law: Whether Mr. Matheson’s ATV was a self-propelled implement of husbandry that was “manufactured, designed, redesigned, converted or reconstructed for a specific use in farming” (HTA, s 1). If so, Mr. Matheson would be excluded from Ontario’s compulsory insurance regime.
In considering the issue, the motion judge noted the ONCA decision in R v Van Berlo. The case held that a vehicle manufactured and designed for specific use in farming has an objectively discernable character and does not depend on the use intended by the user. The motion judge determined that in order to assess the objective character of a farm vehicle, a person must “be reasonably well informed about agricultural life” and “objective discernment may not accurately exist in the person of a Bay Street lawyer living in Rosedale” (para 47).
The motion judge accepted the evidence introduced by Mr. Matheson and his witnesses that ATVs had become part of everyday life in farming operations in Ontario and are designed to perform a variety of specific farm tasks.
The judge concluded the regulatory definitions were out of date and ATV was a self-propelled implement of husbandry.
The Statutory and Regulatory Scheme
On appeal, the ONCA disagreed with the motion judge and found that Mr. Matheson’s ATV was an off-road vehicle that must be insured when being operated on a public road. The court held that the judge erred by considering matters, such as the views of the farming community, which were not pertinent to the exercise of statutory interpretation.
The ONCA found that the motion judge failed to consider the Off Road Vehicles Act Regulation 863, which explicitly classifies the Honda TRX 200 as an “off-road vehicle”. Section 15 of the Act prohibits a person from driving an off-road vehicle on land not occupied by the owner unless it is insured in accordance with the Insurance Act. Further, Highway Traffic Act Regulation 316/03 requires off-road vehicles to be insured when on public highways.
The ONCA identified these provisions as part of one comprehensive scheme and there is a presumption of harmony and coherence between the statutes and regulatory instruments dealing with the same subject matter:
Within the legislative scheme governing automobile insurance, Mr. Matheson’s ATV cannot have been both an off-road vehicle that required insurance when operated on land not occupied by the owner and at the same time a self-propelled implement of husbandry that was excluded from Ontario’s compulsory insurance regime (at para 25).
According to the court, the fact that the regulatory scheme classifies the Honda ATV model TRX 200 as an off-road vehicle leads to the immediate conclusion that they are not self-propelled implements of husbandry.
The Ordinary Meaning of Self-Propelled Implements of Husbandry
The above rationale is clear, sensible, and wholly acceptable. On its own, it would be enough to allow the appeal. However, the court goes on to argue definition of self-propelled implements of husbandry is restricted to vehicles designed and manufactured specifically for farming. If a vehicle designed or manufactured to serve any other purpose, it would not fall into the exception.
This is unrealistic. Other than specialized planting and harvesting equipment, vehicles specified for farming are designed and manufactured for a number of other industry areas. Tractors and skid steers are marketed for agriculture and construction. Mowers, cutters, and compact utility tractors are marketed to agriculture and recreation. Based on the court’s rationale it would appear that all of these pieces of equipment also fall outside the exception.
Matheson is an important decision for insurers in Ontario. It is now clear that farmers should obtain insurance before using their ATVs on public roadways. Given the ONCA’s interpretation for the “self-propelled implement of husbandry”, it would also be prudent for farmers to check with their insurer before driving any agricultural vehicles off farm property.