How do I Prove an Unknown “John Doe” Caused My Auto Accident?
There is a lot to take in following an auto accident. Oftentimes, the accident itself is a split-second occurrence, leaving other drivers and passengers unable to react in time. In the moments immediately following the collision, the victims may not stop to gather potentially useful information, including the identity of the other vehicle drivers involved.
This can sometimes make pursuing a claim for statutory accident benefits or a personal injury lawsuit more difficult. After all, Ontario judges and juries need to understand the facts, not some vague recollection of an accident that took place months–and more often than not, years–earlier. Unfortunately, when victims cannot provide sufficient detail, their case may never even make it to a jury.
Case Study: Passarelli v. The Personal Insurance Company
Consider this recent decision from an Ontario Superior Court of Justice judge. In Passarelli v. The Personal Insurance Company, an accident victim sought insurance benefits under the uninsured motorist provisions of his policy. The insurer rejected the claim and successfully convinced the judge to dismiss the plaintiff’s case on summary judgment–meaning the court felt it was unnecessary to submit the matter to a jury.
The Auto Accident and its Aftermath
Here is a brief overview of the facts. The plaintiff was driving his vehicle near the intersection of Finch Avenue West and Route 400 in Toronto (coincidentally, not far from the location of the Superior Court building). While driving, the plaintiff rear-ended a car belonging to a man named Morra, who is not a party to this lawsuit.
According to Morra, his vehicle had been stopped on Finch Avenue West for about 10 seconds when the plaintiff rear-ended him. Following the collision, Morra took his car to a nearby Collision Reporting Centre, which is a partnership between the Toronto Police Service and insurance companies that enable drivers to self-report motor vehicle accidents. Morra’s report to the Centre reiterated his car was stopped at the time of the accident. The plaintiff also appeared at the Collision Reporting Centre, where he told a police officer that “he could not stop in time to avoid hitting the car in front of him as he was following too closely.”
Later, the plaintiff filed a claim with his own insurance carrier, alleging an unknown “John Doe” had been driving a third vehicle at the time of this accident. According to the plaintiff, the John Doe “caused, or partially caused, the accident.” The John Doe was never identified, however, and there were no other witnesses who could corroborate the plaintiff’s story.
Judge Rejects Plaintiff’s Speculation in Trying to Shift Blame for Accident
Justice Edward M. Morgan of the Superior Court noted in his decision on the insurer’s summary judgment motion that there “is not a hard and fast rule that the following driver is always at fault in a rear end collision.” Nevertheless, the following driver–who was the plaintiff in this case–still has a duty under Ontario traffic regulations to “leave enough room to top in safety given the speed and circumstances.” Based on the available evidence, Justice Morgan concluded the plaintiff “did not meet that standard.”
Before the Court, the plaintiff presented evidence taken from the speedometer in his car just before the collision, which indicated he was travelling at 14 km/hr. The plaintiff maintained that this proved he “had slowed down” as he approached Morra’s car. The plaintiff further suggested that this supported his claim that an “unidentified third vehicle must have intervened to cause the accident.”
Justice Morgan said that was too far a leap to make. This was not a scenario in which the plaintiff could point to a “single rogue driver.” Rather, the plaintiff said there was a “traffic jam ahead of Mr. Morra’s car” and speculated that one of “many cars changing lanes” could have rear-ended Morra. That was purely speculative, Justice Morgan said, and did not qualify as an issue requiring a full trial.
The judge noted that under the Ontario Insurance Act, the burden of proof is always on the plaintiff requesting coverage under an uninsured or unidentified policy to actually show that he or she was “actually injured by an unidentified motorist.” Indeed, the plaintiff’s specific auto insurance policy said that any claim involving an unidentified vehicle “must be corroborated by other material evidence,” such as an “independent witness or physical evidence.” But the mere fact that an accident took place is not, in and of itself, corroborating evidence.
Furthermore, even if the plaintiff could present evidence a third-party “John Doe” caused the accident with Morra, the plaintiff also failed to present sufficient evidence of damages to establish his entitlement to an insurance payout under his policy. The plaintiff demanded the full amount of his uninsured motorist rider, which was over $200,000. While the law does not requiring corroborating evidence for claims under $200,000, it still demands “sufficient evidence to establish a triable issue,” which, again, the plaintiff failed to produce to the judge’s satisfaction.
Contact Preszler Injury Lawyers Ii You Have Been Injured in an Auto Accident and Need Help With an Insurance Claim
As you can observe from the decision in this case, it is enough to bring speculation or conjecture into Ontario Superior Court. Even if you are 100% convinced an unknown driver caused your auto accident, it is still your responsibility to offer the judge actual proof. This may not be obvious to you in the moments immediately following a collision, but it is something you need to understand going forward.
That is why one of your first steps following an accident should be to contact an Ontario personal injury lawyer. At Preszler Injury Lawyers, our lawyers are ready to talk through the specifics of your case and help you understand your options. Call us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.