November 10, 2006

Court decision may affect Ontario insurance rates, expert says

Toronto, Ontario – An Ontario court decision on a drunk-driving charge may affect insurance premiums for all drivers, says industry expert Lee Romanov of

In September 1996, Andrew Grigg, a football player with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, drove with a blood alcohol limit more than twice the legal limit; he drove through a stop sign, hit a lamppost and injured university student Andrea McIntyre. McIntyre, a promising rugby athlete, suffered mild brain trauma, recurring depression, suffers from a higher risk of arthritis and will never regain her athlete status.

Grigg was not advised of his legal rights before a breathalyzer test, and the court had to dismiss his impaired charge; he pled guilty to careless driving and paid a $500 fine. A jury awarded McIntyre $250,000 for pain and suffering, and $100,000 in aggravated damages, but in a surprising twist, they also awarded her $100,000 in punitive damages, a punishment penalty designed to make an example of Grigg’s drunk driving. Lawyers believe it is the first time a jury has awarded these damages in an auto collision.

As the Ontario auto policy does not exclude punitive damages, the insurance company may have to pay this fine, instead of the driver. Romanov says that commercial policies and most homeowner policies have exclusions for punitive and exemplary damages, and other provincial auto policies also exclude them, but Ontario does not. She says that if the appeal judge’s decision to have the insurance company pay the damages holds up, every Ontario driver will probably see rate increases, as “the potential for juries to make these awards will increase and juries have no limit on punitive damages, so the sky’s the limit.”

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