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How is Fault Determined in an Ontario Auto Accident?


We hear often from our clients that the moments following a car accident are initially accompanied by feelings of shock and confusion. One of the first questions on many drivers’ minds following a motor vehicle accident is, “Am I at fault for the collision?” That question is important for several reasons. Who was at fault in Ontario auto accidents affects how much each person involved can recover for property damage and personal injuries. An at-fault driver can also see his or her insurance premiums rise as a result of the accident.

But how fault is determined following an Ontario auto accident isn’t always clear to the drivers involved. In fact, the method used to determine fault varies based on the type of claim being made—and some aspects of recovery don’t rely on a fault determination at all. This is one of the reasons we encourage individuals who have been involved in a motor vehicle accident to contact a personal injury lawyer to see if they may be eligible for compensation given the complex nature of motor vehicle accident claims.

To help drivers understand how their conduct affects determinations of fault in Ontario auto accidents, this post explores that issue in more detail.

Fault in Ontario Auto Accidents: Why it Matters

The concept of fault in Ontario auto accidents is what insurers, parties to litigation, and courts use to allocate liability for damages caused by the accident. To understand how they do this, first recall that Ontario insurance policies generally have three distinct components:

  • Statutory Accident Benefits Coverage. This coverage provides certain benefits to insured individuals regardless of fault.
  • Direct Compensation-Property Damage (DC-PD) Coverage. DC-PD coverage compensates an insured person for damage to his or her own vehicle to the extent that another driver is found to be at fault for the accident.
  • Third-Party Liability Coverage. This coverage pays for damages in a tort claim by another driver (or cyclist, pedestrian, or other person) when the insured driver is at fault for the accident.

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An injured person can only recover under his or her own DC-PD coverage, or under another’s third-party liability coverage, to the extent that he or she was not at fault in causing the accident. If the injured person was partially at fault, then his or her recovery will be reduced according to his or her degree of fault (e.g., 25% or 50%).

Additionally, a driver found to be at fault in causing an accident may also see his or her insurance premiums rise when the policy renews.

Ontario Statutory Accident Benefits: When Fault Doesn’t Matter

Before we move on, we should note one important respect in which fault does not matter in Ontario motor vehicle collisions: recovery of statutory accident benefits.

As mentioned above, statutory accident benefits are the no-fault portion of every Ontario auto insurance policy. That means that a person is entitled to them regardless of who was at fault in causing the accident. A driver will apply to his or her own insurer for accident benefits even if the other driver was entirely at fault, and can recover accident benefits even if the driver him- or herself was entirely at fault for the accident.

Statutory accident benefits include:

  • Medical and rehabilitation benefits;
  • Income replacement benefits of up to 70% of gross income; and
  • Attendant care benefits.

Recovery for damages beyond these benefits requires making a DC-PD or tort claim, both of which are based on fault.

How Fault is Determined in DC-PD Claims: Follow the Rules

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To help facilitate the process of handling property-damage claims in Ontario, the province has enacted the Fault Determination Rules under the Insurance Act. The Rules describe more than 40 common accident scenarios and assign fault in Ontario auto accidents involving property damage to one or more of the drivers involved.

The Rules include scenarios like the following:

  • Automobile “A” is struck from the rear by automobile “B” when both are travelling in the same direction and the same lane. If “A” is stopped or in forward motion, or if “A” is turning to enter a side road, private road, or driveway, the driver of “A” is not at fault and the driver of “B” is 100% at fault.
  • Automobile “A” collides with automobile “B” when both are traveling in the same direction in adjacent lanes. If “A” is turning left at an intersection, and “B” is overtaking “A” to pass it, the driver of “A” is 25% at fault and the driver of “B” is 75% at fault. But if “A” was turning left at a private road or driveway, each is 50% at fault.
  • Automobile “A” is struck from the rear by automobile “B,” which is struck from the rear by automobile “C” when all three are travelling in the same direction and lane. If all three vehicles are in motion, “A” is not at fault; “B” is 50% at fault in its collision with “A,” but not at fault in its collision with “C”; and “C” is 100% at fault in its collision with “B.”

Note that the Fault Determination Rules do not factor in the particular circumstances in which an accident occurs, such as weather conditions, road conditions, or visibility. Although those issues are important in determining fault in a tort claim, the Rules tell insurance companies to ignore them for DC-PD purposes.

Instead, insurance companies simply compare the facts of an automobile accident to the scenarios outlined in the Rules to find the closest match. If there is no match, or if there is insufficient information about a collision to determine what happened, fault is assigned “in accordance with the ordinary rules of law”—i.e., in the same way as with tort claims.

How Fault is Determined in Tort Claims: Negligence

In tort claims arising out of an automobile accident, fault is determined by evidence showing that one or more persons was negligent, and that that negligence caused the accident. A person is negligent when he or she fails to use such care as a reasonable person would have under the same or similar circumstances.

Examples of negligence in a car accident include:

  • Speeding;
  • Running a red light;
  • Failing to keep a proper lookout (e.g., because of distracted driving);
  • Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and
  • Not using headlights when driving at night.

A person whose negligent behaviour causes an accident is at fault for that accident in a tort claim. If both an injured plaintiff and the defendant who injured him or her are found to be at fault in causing an accident, then the plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced according to his degree of contributory negligence.

Contact Our Personal Injury Lawyers Today To Understand Your Rights

Because of the impact of a fault determination on what amounts a person can recover under his or her insurance or through a tort claim, and the effect of a fault finding on insurance rates, proving that another driver was at fault, and you were not, is critical to recovering for the full amount of your property damage and personal injuries.

Proving those facts often requires the assistance of a personal injury lawyer. A lawyer may be able to help you gather evidence establishing fault and rebutting claims that you, too, bear some responsibility for the accident.

Preszler Injury Lawyers is a personal injury firm with locations throughout Ontario. Our lawyers have decades of experience helping Ontario drivers obtain the compensation they deserve following a motor vehicle accident in the province. If you’ve been injured in an accident through the fault of another person, contact us today for a free consultation. Please note there are time limitations involved in filing accident claims, so we encourage you to contact us sooner than later.

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