Catastrophic Brain Injury Claims Against Multiple Defendants: Rankin (Rankin’s Garage & Sales) v. J.J., 2018 SCC 19

When a catastrophic brain injury is caused by a motor vehicle accident, the injured person is left with permanent, life-altering impairments. Rehabilitation costs, future care costs, and loss of income brought about as a result of a catastrophic brain injury can result in multi-million-dollar damage awards. ICBC insurance policy limits may not be enough to cover the costs associated with a catastrophic brain injury. For that reason, when someone sustains a catastrophic brain injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident, it is important to carefully analyze the facts and pursue all potential sources of compensation. An experienced personal injury lawyer can analyze a case to determine who may bear liability for injuries (for example, at-fault drivers, a negligent road maintenance company, a government agency, or other third parties such as businesses or private property owners). A successful claim against each and every party whose negligence was a cause of the injuries opens up additional sources of compensation for the catastrophically injured person and can ensure full compensation is received.

Supreme Court of Canada draws the line in a recent brain injury case

A catastrophic brain injury case that recently made its way all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada is a prime example of a claim in negligence against multiple defendants. The decision in Rankin (Rankin’s Garage & Sales) v. J.J., 2018 SCC 19 https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/17085/index.do has been closely watched and hotly debated by personal injury lawyers and insurers in BC and across Canada due to its impact on personal injury negligence claims. Ultimately, the claim in negligence failed against a commercial business owner on the facts but succeeded against an at-fault driver and the parent of the at-fault driver.

Accident which caused the catastrophic brain injury

The catastrophic brain injury in Rankin (Rankin’s Garage & Sales) v. J.J. came about as a result of a single-vehicle motor vehicle accident that occurred after two boys (then aged 15 and 16) stole a car from Rankin’s Garage. Prior to stealing the car, the teenagers had consumed alcohol and smoked marijuana supplied by the older boy’s mother. When the boys made their way to Rankin’s Garage, they found an unlocked car with the keys in the ashtray and decided to steal it, even though neither had a driver’s licence and neither had ever driven a car before. The 16-year-old drove the car out of the garage and onto the highway, where the car crashed, causing the 15-year-old boy to suffer a catastrophic brain injury.

Catastrophic brain injury claim successfully against several parties – Case Result

The 15-year-old boy who sustained a catastrophic brain injury commenced proceedings against the 16-year-old driver of the car, the 16-year-old boy’s mother, and the owner of the garage. The action went to trial on the issue of liability, with the jury finding all three parties liable in negligence. Liability was apportioned as follows: Rankin’s Garage (37%), the teenage driver (23%) and the mother of the teenage driver (30%). The remaining 10% was apportioned to the injured boy himself.

Finding of liability against garage owner overturned on appeal

The garage owner appealed the finding of liability all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, who ultimately determined that the garage owner was not liable for the catastrophic brain injury suffered as a result of the motor vehicle accident. The majority of the Court concluded that the garage owner did not owe a duty of care to the injured boy on the facts. Essentially, the majority conceded that the risk of theft of the car was reasonably foreseeable but would have required additional evidence that the stolen vehicle might be operated in a dangerous manner to find that the physical injury was foreseeable. Insurers and business owners were undoubtedly pleased with the result, but as noted above, the Supreme Court’s decision has been critiqued by some personal injury lawyers. In any event, it is important to emphasize that personal injury claims rooted in negligence must be decided on their individual facts. That the claim failed on the facts in Rankin Garage does not mean that a claim against a garage or business owner will not succeed on different facts. Careful assessment of liability and analysis of the potential for claims against multiple parties are essential in all cases involving catastrophic injury.

Our legal team at Simpson, Thomas & Associates is here to help you find the answers toy our questions.  If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, please contact us to schedule a free consultation.


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